The sixth studio album from the UK’s biggest ‘rock’ band is now upon us. We had a glimpse into what to expect with the release of their first single ‘Magic’, with its minimalist sound and electronic drum beats it is a new direction for the band; and this is what is at the heart of this new record: not a single acoustic drum beat has been hit and gone are their piano-led pop songs. What exists here are warm, uplifting synthesizers throughout and electro beats, along with hints of Buckland’s signature guitar riffs and a stripped back, relaxed Martin on vocal singing, mainly, about love.
In recent years, Coldplay have reinvented themselves for each album, bringing a new theme to each proceeding; be it their war-torn image for Viva la Vida or their glow-in-the-dark, graffiti-strewn look for concept album Mylo Xyloto. With Ghost Stories they will need atmospheric laser beams and some glow sticks for this is a chilled out, dance infused Coldplay; one about to go out on stage at the Big Chill Festival and not seem out of place. ‘Midnight’ has a pulsating undercurrent and synthesized vocals that James Blake would be proud of and it seems that they decided they would forgo the trouble of getting a DJ to do an Ibiza remix for ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ and just cut out the middle man and do it themselves; true, it is piano driven but it is a piano EQ’d to the max and that phases in and out. It truly is Coldplay doing their best hedonistic, “blow your whistle” attempt but the jury is out on whether or not it works.
On the whole, there is something much simpler and purer about this album. It puts the listener into an almost dreamlike state. Gone are the massive string sections and duets with gigantean pop princesses, the instantly catchy piano riffs (‘A Sky Full of Stars’ aside) and layered vocal harmonies. It is not until track seven on the album that there is a prominent acoustic guitar; ‘Oceans’ being a beautiful, acoustic number, more reminiscent of times gone by, but even here there is an electro pulse to keep the ‘theme’ going.
At times the album sounds more like Chris Martin and a backing track, so different to the norm is the feel to the rhythm section; it doesn’t sound like a live band and at times it doesn’t quite gel. But there are still some beautiful moments in there, with Buckland’s wonderfully discordant guitar solo in ‘True Love’ and when ‘Magic’ kicks into life it is very much Coldplay at their best. There is also something old in the sound at points, with ‘Inked’ sounding like it could have been recorded in the 80’s, mainly due to that synth pop sound.
It is a good thing when a band tries something new and does not just keep re-hashing the same old material, and Coldplay cannot be accused of that with their last three albums. Their first three solidified them as an angst driven pop/rock outfit, which then gave them licence to try and break new ground and, though this new record will not disappoint the avid fans, pop/rock it is not and, with this new direction, the band might just find themselves some new fans along the way. Not that they need any.
The album truly is a different beast to their past releases and, though it stands up to be counted against the others, it feels more like a slow burner rather than an instant classic.
Ghost Stories is out now via iTunes. Check out ‘Midnight’, the preview video of the album, below.