Telling Ghost Stories With Coldplay

Bittles‘ Magazine

That Coldplay lot are a pretty divisive bunch. Beloved by casual music fans everywhere, yet despised with a passion by hordes of ‘real music’ connoisseurs who find it difficult to forgive their ‘blandness’, or their success. Personally I have never minded Coldplay, or Chris Martin’s emphatic croon. By JOHN BITTLES

ColdplayParachutes and Viva La Vida are both great albums (stop snickering back there) and their live shows are everything a large arena concert should be: big, bold and with just enough melancholy for grown men to shed a tear or two when no-one’s looking their way. Sure, the annoyingly named X & Y and Mylo Xyloto are pretty shit and viciously suck the bone marrow out of life! But who doesn’t release the odd duff record from time to time?

New album Ghost Stories has just come out to very little acclaim. Widely derided by critics who seem more at ease discussing Chris Martin’s break-up with Gwyneth Paltrow than the music it contains, the album already appears to be slipping under the radar of most. This is a shame, as it deserves far better than that. It’s purported to be something of a melancholic, downbeat affair, a break-up album if you will. But, since when has misery and dejection been a bad thing? Most of my favourite music is downright depressing. And if I’m not holding a knife to my wrist after three plays of an album then I will invariably declare to my long-suffering cat that ‘this record is a bit shit’.

Break-up albums can either be a piece of worthless self-indulgence, or a raw, visceral trip into one person’s broken-down soul. Such albums by Joni Mitchell (Blue), Bon Iver (For Emma, Forever Ago), and Noah and the Whale (First Days of Spring) both bored the hell out of me and made me give up on life. Yet, superb long-players by the likes of Spiritualized (Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space), Amy Winehouse (Back to Black) and John Grant (Pale Green Ghosts), show just how great this conceit can be, and, at times, even managed to reduce this dried-out husk of a man to inconsolable tears.

But, back to the album at hand! Released on a sunny Monday in May Ghost Stories is made up of nine quietly beautiful tracks, each featuring bland platitudes, rousing choruses and a portrayal of loss and rejection so impersonal and wide in scope that even those who have never once experienced hurt or dejection (I hate you all!) will understand.

I am in no way trying to criticize Coldplay for whatever banalities they may display in their songs though, as anyone who does this needs both a slap in the face, and a lesson in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Oasis, David Bowie et al all made huge careers out of conveying feelings and emotions so vague and unthreatening that, literally, anybody could empathise. For me, Chris Martin and his merry men are merely carrying on this grand tradition. Try filling a stadium singing songs about that time you found fifty pence down the back of the sofa, or when you stupidly forgot your keys and got locked out of your home and see how well that goes.

All of which makes Ghost Stories an extremely brave record for the band to release at this stage of their career. Apart from the Avicii-sounding A Sky Full Of Stars all songs are subdued and intimate sounding and you do wonder how well they will go down in front of 50,000 baying fans. You can imagine the main stage of Glastonbury turning their noses up at these restrained, delicate little tunes. So, I say, good on Coldplay for taking a leap and releasing an album that could well be commercial suicide should everything go wrong

The record opens with a heavenly-sounding chorus that ushers in the beautifully lovelorn Always In My Head, it’s first line of ‘I think of you. I haven’t slept’ signalling exactly where the rest of the record is destined to go. It does seem little more than an introduction though, merely heralding in the proper beginning that is lead single Magic which is a lovely downbeat gem that recalls the majesty of Simple Minds in their Street Fighting Years. This really is a gorgeous tune that exemplifies everything that is good about a band like Coldplay. It tugs at your heart, yet is gently euphoric, and lets you know that, just maybe, you are not alone.

Ink follows with a surprising Aphex Twin style backing tone which recalls his Selected Ambient Works vol 2 period if you listen closely enough. That it is a bona fide pop song with a chorus intoning ‘ All I know. Is I love you so‘ is a pretty neat juxtaposition when you think about it. Or maybe I‘m just reading too much into it. All I know is that should daytime radio play anything resembling Aphex Twin at all the whole fabric of society as we know it may just break down.

True Love, Midnight, Another’s Arms and Oceans continue the downbeat, melancholy theme until the whole album begins to resemble a magnificently tranquil dirge. I like dirges. Scrap that, I positively love dirges. And anyone who doesn’t can never be my friend. Each of these songs are really quite pleasant in their own way with Midnight evoking some forgotten Brian Eno track while the gorgeous gospel of Another’s Arms also stands out.

Proving that even Coldplay know how to rave, A Sky Full Of Stars arrives just before the end to suddenly inject a bit of energy into proceedings and stop everything from getting a bit too dull. It really shouldn’t work in this morose company, yet somehow it does, adding a bit of light and joyous pop vitality into the fold. A record company commitment, or a brave track-listing decision – only time will tell. It gamely raises the cheese levels as all great pop should until O takes things back to the album’s downhearted beginnings and ends the set on a somewhat stilted, thoughtful note.

Surprisingly for a modern pop record this is something that I happily listened to numerous times. Coldplay may not be the coolest band on the block, and they have more than their fair share of critics claiming that their music is dull and predictable. But, isn’t all rock music right now? When did you last hear a song by a band with guitars that made you sit up in shock, or spit out your cornflakes in a ‘What the fuck was that?’ moment of aural glee? Let’s be honest here, most guitar-based music right now is as exciting as getting a root canal. Yet, surely, it isn’t Coldplay’s job to change this. It should be up to the new bands crawling out of the nation’s gutters that should be breaking down barriers and striving to say, nay howl, something vital and new. The fact that there aren’t any is a very sad indictment of the music scene today.

Coldplay do what Coldplay do very well. There is no denying the heart and soul that went into the crafting of all of these tracks. I approached this album with caution ready to brutally slag it off. Yet, I am left musing they may just have won themselves a fan.

| JOHN BITTLES

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