Thursday, May 22, 2014

Music Review: Ghost Stories by Coldplay - Is Coldplay Dead?

Coldplay - Ghost Stories
Coldplay is, for whatever reason, a polarizing band.  People either love them or love to hate them.  I am the former.  I love Coldplay.  For a decade now they have been my favorite band.  As a storyteller at heart there has always been something uniquely cinematic about Coldplay's songs.  They often manage to evoke feelings of intimacy and grandeur at the same time.  They aren't just singing about an emotion but also what that emotion means in the grand scheme of the universe.  It has been as one of the singles from their new album Ghost Stories is titled, Magic.  That Magic has brought me to attend two Coldplay concerts, one in Belfast and the other in Dallas.  They are the only band that I have anticipated release dates and bought the album the day of their release.  A couple years ago, I looked at the number of times in iTunes I listened to Coldplay by song.  I had listened to over a dozen of their songs over a hundred times.  I love Coldplay.  They are indelibly the largest contributors to the soundtrack of my life thus far.

I feel it important to share where I am coming from, because I feel it important to this review.  All too often when I am reading a review it becomes apparent to me that the reason that the author doesn't like the work being reviewed not because the work isn't an good, but because there is something they are comparing it to and it fails to live up to that comparison.  This happens most often when movies are remade or adapted from famous novels.  An acid-tongued critic will wax poetic about how the movie doesn't do some lofty blah blah blah that Tolstoy did in his epic novel blah blah blah.  Then, I, being one who has never read said epic novel, I watch the movie as a stand alone work and love it.  There is a disconnect between my experience as one who comes to the table fresh and one who brings baggage and affection with them.  The same is true here.  That way I can explain why I would write a title insinuating Coldplay might be coming to an end. (Beyond the fact that such a catchy Title might get you to read this.  Hey, it was either that or "Man Writes Scathing Review of Coldplay's New Album Ghost Stories,  You Won't Believe What Happened Next!!! OMG!!!)

So, answering the question, is Ghost Stories any good?

Sure.  For those of you who don't know me, "sure" is not a good word.  The word "sure" holds the same feeling with me as saying "f@#$ you".  My girlfriend, Tabitha, is chuckling and nodding next to me as I write this.  I hate the word "sure."

In a vacuum, if we could wipe out all memory and history and come to this fresh then we might be befuddled a bit, but we could answer the question of this album being good with a yes.  Ghost Stories is clean, moving, pop.  Compared to what else is out there with a similar sound it is above average.  It is a cool mix of techno beats, ambient strings and synth, and Chris Martin's one of a kind vocals.  There are sure to be a couple songs that become hits, particularly the heavily pushed "Sky Full of Stars".

So, why would I insinuate that Coldplay might be dead?

Well, because I think they just might be.  We'll see.  As one who comes to the table not in a vacuum, not fresh, this album sucks.  Before I answer why, I am going to tell you why not.  Ghost Stories doesn't suck because it is different from their past work.  I have always been a man that gives room to my favorite artists.  I am an artist.  I get it.  Artists grow.  We change.  We evolve.  We can have this great thing, something people love, are willing to pay us (us being artists, not me obviously) millions to just KEEP DOING WHAT WE LOVE YOU FOR.  Yet, again and again our favorite actor leaves their famous roll on our favorite TV show because they are bored and they promptly disappear from fame, leaving us thinking, "Why couldn't they just keep doing what made them famous and rich?"  Because they are artists, and artists change.

Coldplay has been changing since the beginning and I have not only not begrudged the change but embraced it even if it is not always best.  Parachutes may still be my favorite album of theirs, but I have loved every subsequent album a ton.  Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay's last album before Ghost Stories was a far cry from Parachutes and I loved it.

This album disappoints not because it is different from the past, but because it isn't even a Coldplay album.

What do I mean?

Just listen to this album.  As I did kept thinking how the album would have been good... if it were not a Coldplay album.  Were Chris Martin to have gone solo and this been his first offering, I would have enjoyed it enormously.  Coldplay has been aggressively and openly trying to be the greatest band of all time since the beginning.  Whether they have or have not come close is debatable, but what isn't is that they have always been a great band, emphasis on the word BAND, as in a collective of musicians who play different instruments in concert with one another to produce something special... hopefully.  Ghost Stories is not the work of a band at all.  It shouldn't be a called an album by Coldplay, but indeed Chris Martin and the Machine, as that would be more accurate.

Ghost Stories is an unintentionally cautionary album that reveals just how much we can over value vocals.  It is easy to appreciate the uniqueness of someone's voice.  We have a harder time appreciating the value of a truly amazing guitarist, bassist, or drummer.  It can be tempting to think they are replaceable, that they are not artists but instead technicians.  If it is just about plucking a string just find another string plucker.  Listen to this album after listening to the rest of Coldplay's incredible work and you are left feeling this odd void.  Close your eyes next time you listen to Ghost Stories and just try to imagine the band performing these songs.  Good luck.  I did it, and I saw Chris Martin singing while some technician hits play on a Karaoke machine.  The outcome wasn't the Beatles or U2 but Beyonce or Bieber, vocal performers who sing along with music made by a computer.

I don't begrudge music made by computers.  It has a place, even in a Coldplay album, as it has augmented the last three Coldplay albums beautifully.  AUGMENTED.  With Ghost Stories it takes over.  When I close my eyes, I see Chris Martin doing his thing while drummer Will Champion, guitarist Jonny Buckland, and Bassist Guy Berryman are chilling out doing nothing.  They are almost no where to be found in the album, and when they are, THEY, not the computer, are the ones augmenting.  That amazing chemistry that makes a band a band is no where to be found.  It leaves me wondering if Coldplay is dead.  Chris Martin's vocals alone does not a Coldplay album make.  It is sad when the day comes where you have to hope your favorite player, artist, band fails to some extent so as to be pushed back on track.  My fear is that teenagers will flock to this album in droves.  They'll recognize the sound from all the Miley Cyrus albums that filled their ears and think, "Coldplay is Kind of Cool."

No.  No they aren't.  Not anymore.  Here's to hoping this is a mistake and not the new norm.

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