Our reasons for loving or loathing Coldplay often hover around the same culprits: their dearth of subtlety, their embrace of extremes. For better or turn-that-sap-down, they let it all hang out, hopeful (“Yellow,” “Viva La Vida”) and hopeless (“The Scientist,” “Princess of China”) and always so richly heart-sleeved it can make your molars hurt (“Don’t Let It Break Your Heart,” “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”).
That’s why, in the wake of frontman Chris Martin’s split with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, we figured Coldplay would soon reach epic levels of piano-pounding pathos. But, no. New LP “Ghost Stories” is a total twist, packing punch not with wails but whispers. Nine tracks long (with a hidden bonus), it is Coldplay’s most understated record, grandiose gestures set aside for ponderance and gauzy malaise.
Although the music is sedate and contemplative, Gwyneth Paltrow’s ex pulls no punches lyrically, writing with a jilted pen.
“I think of you, I haven’t slept / I think I do, but I don’t forget,” he sings in a midrange coo on swirling opener “Always in My Head.” On the dazed lope of midtempo gem “Magic,” he reiterates: “I call it magic when I’m with you / And I just got broken, broken into two.”
Listeners in search of gossipy clues won’t need to dig deep. Chris certainly seems to be the dumpee here. And yet, let it be known that Coldplay is too smart to make a bitter “here, my dear” album that feels like a personal parting shot. Instead, the music strives for universal and the universe, each cut intended for we, the collective lovelorn.
Coldplay also longs to entertain you; if you’ve ever seen the band’s bombastic live show, you’ve no doubt left loving them more, or at least loathing them less. You could never accuse Coldplay of being hip or indie or exclusive. On “Ghost Stories,” while the despairing themes stay consistent, fluttery moments of uplift lighten the dark mood.
“Buckland” is an underrated treasure (see Coldplay classics “In My Place,” “Fix You,” “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”), but the truth is that this feels very much like a Martin solo LP and a good one, too. It’s sad, and it’s very different, but it’s also absolutely gorgeous, from start to finish. Go figure: “Ghost Stories” might be the first Coldplay album on which we can all agree.