Coldplay’s sixth studio album travels inward, finding hope in an atmospheric album about broken connections.
It’s two in the morning and my one-bedroom apartment feels especially empty. I should probably put the A/C unit in the window and go to sleep, but I’d rather sit outside on the stoop, breathe in the warming air and watch the moon. Sometimes I feel like I’m not where I’m supposed to be, not with who I’m supposed to be with—a piece that doesn’t quite fit into the puzzle I’ve got laid out on the table. Coldplay’s Ghost Stories is exactly the album I need in these moments.
Enough ink has been spilled about Chris Martin’s personal life and how it affected this album (look for it somewhere else). You can feel the ‘break-up record’ vibe from the very first notes, but to put that label onto this record would rob Coldplay of their greatest strength: their relatability. This isn’t a selfish record—Coldplay still aims to connect with as many people as possible. Ghost Stories is the album they needed to write, a huge step inward after 2011’s Mylo Xyloto doubled down on the throttle and built the band’s sense of bombast up to literally cartoonish levels. At times, these songs feel like a return to their earlier material—the wide-open acoustic strum of ‘Oceans’ would fit perfectly on a remastered Parachutes, while lyrical references to flocks of birds and far-away stars sound like the recollections of an old flame.
The album’s tone is predictably melancholy, which unfortunately means that many listeners won’t let it truly sink in. Yet there’s so much hope here, a faint shake in Martin’s voice that recolors every note into something more complex. “Tell me you love me. If you don’t, then lie to me,” goes the refrain of ‘True Love’, one of those over-obvious truisms that Coldplay can sell through sheer earnestness. It’s a heartbreaking thing to say to someone, but somehow on this record it feels like a balm. Or listen to ‘Magic’, a fantastic single that’s been unfairly maligned as trite due to its central metaphor: “And I just got broken, broken into two. Still, I call it magic when I’m next to you.” It’s about smiling through the tears, about reaching out through the darkness for a hand to hold. It’s about yearning.
The music reflects this mood, accentuating every bit of space with sparse drum programming and atmospheric blips that sound like they’re echoing off the walls and colliding with themselves. Ghost Stories is an apt title because of how full the room feels, even as you sing into an empty space. It reinforces how we sometimes carry the things we’ve lost around with us, how they always seem to watch from the corner, even if we don’t want to acknowledge that they exist.
Thank God for catharsis, which comes on the album’s penultimate heavenscraper ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’: “I don’t care, go on and tear me apart, ’cause in a sky full of stars, I think I saw you.” It’s a complete better-to-have-loved-and-lost cliché, and it works perfectly—a soaring, defiant way to let out every little bit of junk that’s left in your system. Chris Martin’s falsetto climbs above Tim Bergling‘s deft production to create an uplifting communal sense that’s as ever-encompassing as the band’s best tracks. It’s a song that should (and will) soundtrack dozens of massive music events this summer; that it wells up a similar feeling when you’re screaming into your pillow is even more impressive.
Ultimately, these moments of acceptance and empathy become the most important ones. At heart, this is an album about learning how to feel less alone. There’s something to be said for the album that’s made for you and only you, but often we just need to know that somewhere other people are singing along with us. It gives us hope, no matter what the words are. When I think of Ghost Stories, I’ll hear Chris Martin trailing off: “No I don’t, no I don’t, no I don’t, no I don’t want anybody else but you…” It’s half defeated mumble, half determined mantra. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Favorite Tracks: “Magic”, “True Love”, “A Sky Full Of Stars”