In the early aughts, Coldplay was branded as Radiohead’s doe-eyed little cousin, writing ruminative mope-rock tailored for rom-com soundtracks. And being the sensitive chap he is, Chris Martin’s taken those criticisms to heart, setting out to prove his band’s artistic worth across the past decade. With each new album, Coldplay worm their way through a new stylistic shift, brandishing whatever musical tools (hip-hop drums, orchestrations, Brian Eno) might help carve out their elusive masterpiece. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they refuse to aim small.
Ghost Stories, the band’s sixth studio album, is ambitious for a new reason: scaling back. Born from the aftermath of Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, this brisk LP finds the quartet meditating on lost love over various shades of warm-blooded electronica. Coldplay have always been eager to please (that aw-shucks charm is both part of their appeal and a critical repellent), and on Ghost Stories, they continue to chase both commercial and artistic relevance, appealing to every possible listener at least once — from the soulful Bon Iver approximations of “Midnight” to the pulsing, Avicii-produced epic “A Sky Full of Stars” to the crackling electro-pop ballad “True Love” (which breezes by on lush Timbaland drums).
A “Coldplay break-up album” almost sounds redundant on paper, but what’s most surprising about Ghost Stories is that Martin sounds invigorated as a vocalist — whether he’s gurgling vocoder on “Midnight” or exploring his rougher lower register on the spooky “Another’s Arms.” And the sparse, synth-heavy arrangements let that underrated tenor shine throughout. Subdued but rarely sullen, heartbroken yet resilient, Ghost Stories is musical comfort food. And no matter the sonic landscape, that’s what Coldplay do best.