Hearing Ghost Stories, it is unclear whether you are listening to a new pop album or intruding on devastating personal grief.
Chris Martin’s recent high-profile conscious uncoupling from Gwyneth Paltrow was always going to, well, haunt Coldplay’s sixth album. In actuality, it dominates its every moment. This is indisputably and quintessentially a break-up album, a record in which Martin abandons Coldplay’s trademark lyrical platitudes in favour of wearing his (broken) heart firmly on his sleeve.
It’s a wallow of an album, wherein Martin sounds muted, numb and neutered. It unfolds in the middle of the recognisable silence and loneliness that ensues when a relationship implodes and the combatants stagger away and take stock. Its opening words are “I think of you, I don’t forget”; on Magic, Martin is reflecting that, “I just got broken, broken into two.” Throughout, there is only one thing on his brooding mind.
This being Coldplay, this insatiable melancholy is expressed not via Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks-style red-raw poetry, but in a polite, restrained, quietly anguished moping. It’s a very English despair. Ink finds Martin murmuring, “All I know is that I love you so much, it hurts”; on True Love, he beseeches “Tell me you love me; if you don’t, then lie to me.” He paces around in mental circles, because that is what heartbroken, jilted lovers do.
This all-pervasive introspection also infuses the music, which is almost entirely shorn of Coldplay’s usual soaring, mellifluous melodies and choruses in favour of simple piano and guitar shapes and soft, low-level pattering electronics. Occasionally Jonny Buckland summons up a scrabble of The Edge-like infinite guitar, but mostly these understated, inward-looking ruminations sound like pensive regrets; half-stifled sighs. The sole exception, the Avicii-produced, rave-synths-driven A Sky Full Of Stars, bursts from its surroundings like a skyscraper in a desert.
Coldplay will attract mockery for this album, because they are Coldplay, and its relentlessly morose self-absorption will not be to everybody’s taste. But for putting his vulnerability out there so honestly and courageously, Chris Martin deserves enormous credit. And, let’s face it; he probably needs a hug right now.