“You wanted to make damn good and sure I’d never be able to turn over in bed again without feeling that body beside me, not there but tangible, like a leg that’s been cut off. Gone but the place still hurts.” – Margaret Atwood’s Life Before Man
If this album doesn’t get Chris Martin laid, there is no hope for him.
The sombre, focused Ghost Stories from Martin and England’s romantic-rock giants Coldplay concerns the singer-songwriter’s separation from his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, the polarizing American actress whose presence hovers specter-like over Martin’s elegant wallow. “So tell me you love me, and if you don’t, then lie to me,” he gorgeously pleads, against hope and the strings and Timbaland beats of True Love. Women of the world, if you do not gently place the crooner’s head upon your shoulder in empathy, I will.
But then who, besides Paltrow, could resist?
Actually, there will be many who will find Ghost Stories resistible. Coldplay’s sixth album is a toning down from its preceding works, specifically the sonic adventurism of 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends and the conceptual bent of 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, both produced by the big-brained Brian Eno. There is a shimmer and a prettiness and an affecting quality to the expressions of
heartache, but the songs generally don’t make great impressions. I wonder if this would work as a solo piano album. Undoubtedly Ghost Stories will be described as “minimalist,” but to my taste it just isn’t minimal enough.
The album begins in E minor, the same chord that introduces Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, who did not attempt to find a rhyme for “conscious uncoupling.” The lovely backing vocals and agreeable soft-rock mood of Always in My Head is Martin’s way of greeting his listeners. He’s hang-dog, he’s at your door, and of course you will let him in.
His Magic is small, comely and contemporary; it’s the album’s restrained lead single and most pleasant track.
For the twinkling Midnight, Martin uses the cloaked, robotic vocal technique of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. It’s late and hope is mostly gone, the song is saying, but leave a light on just in case.
Another’s Arms is a dreary, haunting weeper, with Martin in full lament, “late night watching TV, used to be you here beside me.” She’s gone, but he still feels her. Doctors call this phantom pain; Martin calls it Ghost Stories.
The most troubling ghosts of Coldplay, however, are the band’s early endearing singles, Yellow and the sophisticated, alluring Clocks. Martin doesn’t seem to be able to write to that level any longer, and Coldplay’s attempt to compensate by becoming grand like U2 or Radiohead hasn’t quite worked either.
It was Radiohead’s Thom Yorke who famously sang about being left high and dry: “It’s the best thing that you’ve ever had; the best thing you’ve had has gone away.” And it’s just so sad, to reach for something that is no longer there.