When Coldplay originally set out to make 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, the word was that they wanted to created a stripped-down record, even though the final result was one of their poppiest to date.
Consider the British quartet’s upcoming Ghost Stories (May 19) a return to that minimalist blueprint.
Coldplay’s much-anticipated sixth studio album is certainly stripped down, with a heavy reliance on piano and frontman Chris Martin’s distinctive falsetto crooning about love and loss and confronting life-changing circumstances.
It’s hard not to read too much into Ghost Stories’ tidy nine songs. After all, Martin was one half of a highly publicized “conscious uncoupling” with his longtime wife Gwyneth Paltrow earlier this year. He has even suggested that the events leading up to the breakup informed much of the album.
“Up to a certain point in my life I wasn’t completely vulnerable and it caused some problems,” he told BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe. “If you don’t let love in then you can’t really give it back.
“So what Ghost Stories means to me is like, you’ve got to open yourself up to love and if you really do, of course it will be painful at times, but then it will be great at some point.”
The emotional outpouring is front and center on the single “Magic,” which the band released in March and has performed on several late-night television programs.
“Call it magic / Cut me into two / And with all your magic / I disappear from view / And I can’t get over / Can’t get over you,” Martin sings over a mesmerizing bassline from Guy Berryman.
It’s almost as if Martin is floating in a dreamscape with “Magic,” confessing previous wrongs while also processing what happened with his relationship.
Likewise for the track “Midnight,” when Martin talks about leaving a light on as he attempts to roll with the punches even though all hope is gone. That he adopts an auto-tune effect that recalls Bon Iver makes it even more ethereal.
The acoustic-driven “Oceans” is an example of where Ghost Stories benefits from modern production techniques. As a guitar strums gently, blips and bleeps from a synthesizer punch things up, along with lush strings and echoing vocals.
“Oceans” is followed by the EDM-tinged “A Sky Full of Stars,” the biggest song on the album. The collaboration with Swedish electronic producer Avicii begins with a simple piano line (originally played on the record by Avicii) before breaking out into a rocket-charged chorus that is complimented by Martin’s soaring voice. Get the confetti-cannons ready.
“True Love” is another one that highlights the beats, albeit a deliberate thumping that came courtesy of Timbaland. Martin pleads, “For a second I was in control / I had it once / I lost it though,” while guitarist Jonny Buckland unleashes long and moody string bends to compliment the vocal.
The last time Coldplay was this subdued was with 2000 debut album Parachutes. Since then, they’ve released a closet full of hit singles that are instantly accessible.
Ghost Stories definitely has a few of those gems, but it is the personal emotion coursing through each song that helps the entire album stand apart.
Sample a few of the new singles below, or stream the album in its entirety here.