Coldplay: Ghost Stories – a fan's first-listen review

It’s impossible to prevent a landslide of snarky comments when discussing the lives of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, whose existence appeared to be held together with a thick glue of global success, vegan snacks and Aryan beauty. Prior to news of their conscious uncoupling, Paltrow and Martin’s world seemed to be one long red carpet ride through Hollywood premieres and sell-out stadiums, with one eye on the hottest nut-based recipes and the other on their children.

It’s no surprise that the early feedback on Ghost Stories, Coldplay’s sixth album which is written exclusively, unequivocally about a couple’s breakdown, has been dismissive. For some, the album is too transparently autobiographical, too gaudy in its tales of lonesome nights and longing. My reaction, however, is to simply rejoice: there is still a bruised and beating heart within that Chris Martin-shaped body suit.

Perhaps it is important to point out here that I am an unconditional fan of the band: I was one of the few subscribers to Coldplay’s early, print-only fanzine Coldplayground. I own an ultra-rare and completely worn-to-the-core Christmas EP entitled Mince Spies. I have a shoebox full of pixellated A4 photos of the band that I printed out at school in 2000 and used to look at between lessons, and I once spent my pocket money on hiring a mini bus to take me from Essex to Earls Court to see them play. In fact, it was at that very Earls Court gig that I recall Coldplay first slipping away from my grasp: they stopped playing Shiver, a song heavy with the weight of an adolescent hurt and yearning. So to hear a whiny-voiced Chris Martin begging “tell me you love me” in 2014, comes as a quite a relief.

While the early stages of Chris and Gwyneth’s blossoming relationship may have prompted songs seeping with sentiment – Fix You, What If and Moses (a track they soon named their son after) – beyond the five year mark, Martin’s lyrics became oddly detached and bizarrely existential, keeping the listeners either at arm’s length for privacy’s sake, or to simply to sidestep the tricky lack of romance that comes from long-term relationship qualms such as “I really resent the way you keep me awake with your snoring” and “Could you try just a little bit harder with my sister?”

From the very start, Ghost Stories is album unashamed of its sorrow and love – “I think of you, I haven’t slept” is the opening line of the opening song, Always In My Head. Then there’s Oceans – perhaps the album’s most subtly stirring moment, recalling Shiver’s B-side Careful Where You Stand, or the touching Ink –”Got a tattoo and the pain’s alright, just want a way of keeping you in sight.” The way Martin paints his emotions on Ghost Stories is clearly different from that of the band’s first two albums, however – there’s a sad serenity to his voice – notably in the Jon Hopkins-produced Midnight – which appears glassy-eyed and dosed up to the eyeballs on mood-stabilising pills. There are, of course, moments where the lyrics are too jarringly simplistic –such as Another’s Arms’ “late night watching TV/ Used to be you here beside me/ Used to be your arms around me/ Your body on my body” –but let’s not forget, this is the same band who rose to prominence with a song based around the phrase “it was all yellow”.

Given that the band started work on this album in 2012, perhaps this isn’t Martin quickly capitalising on his breakup but merely an account of his emotions over the last few years, charting the gradual breakdown of his marriage. And for many fans, Martin’s Hulk-like mutation from bruised-hearted sixth-former into the muscular, best friend of Jay Z and Beyonce, a man who aimlessly “dreamed of para- para- paradise”, back into the kind of songwriter intent on describing the loneliness of watching The Great British Bake Off on his own is a welcome plummet back to Earth.

Alexis Petridis’s review of this album will appear online on Thursday and in G2 Film&Music on Friday.

This copy was amended on 14 May . An earlier version inaccurately referred to Moses as their firstborn.

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