Music critics often comment that Coldplay, one of the most successful current alternative-rock bands to emerge from the London music scene, often releases music that strongly resembles several other older rock and pop artists. However, instead of criticizing the quartet, it can be quite beneficial to commend Coldplay for its combined, Buckley-style Brit-pop, melancholy Radiohead-esque warbling and U2’s massive stadium sound, with intelligent song structure, creative lyrical content and impressively precise musicianship.
Rolling Stone once aptly described Coldplay’s hybrid and heavily developed sound as “a hypnotic slow-mo otherworld where spirit rules supreme.” That eerie yet irresistible pop-rock energy is unmistakably a phenomenon to which Coldplay fans have been accustomed since the band’s debut album, 2000’s “Parachutes.” That being said, while this spacey and ghostly stadium vibe has remained present on each of the group’s five studio albums, the overall direction of the musical composition has evolved from the gloomy and reflective rock of earlier releases to a the more complex array of textures, keyboards, effects, resonant guitars and explosive hooks of the group’s most recent release, 2011’s “Mylo Xyloto.”
On May 16, Chris Martin and his band mates are set to release “Ghost Stories,” their sixth studio LP and first in three years. Following the “proper” promotional model, Coldplay has released two tracks off the record: the stripped-down lead single “Magic” and the moaning electronica of “Midnight,” presented by a fantastical and trippy music video. The extremely energetic “Mylo Xyloto” was initially intended to be a light, acoustic and rather minimalistic release, but as is often the case with the musical process, plans changed and the final cut of the record was born. However, the band has decided to return to that initial stripped-down sound for Ghost Stories and both “Magic” and “Midnight” make that sentiment very clear.
“Magic” kicks off with a looped bass-line that feels like a poppier version of something off of Radiohead’s 2010 release, “King of Limbs.” The modest rhythm section quickly expands into a constantly rising set of transient keyboards, guitars and vocal swoonings. While Martin’s lyrics do not literally say all that much, repeated phrases like “Call it magic, call it true” over a constantly blossoming and evolving musical pattern have an essence of mystical power to them. Martin does not find himself drowning in words or complex concepts. He merely delivers an almost hauntingly simple message about love and companionship. As Martin becomes more desperate for the “magic” of being “with you,” the layers of music grow and quietly erupt before returning to the more mystical and cavernous section of the song. With “Magic,” Coldplay achieves the stripped-down musical goal they aimed for when first writing “Mylo Xyloto” and acts as a wonderful bridge between their earlier, more rock-oriented songs and their more recent spacey, colorful stadium sound, without losing the effect of either.
While similar with regard to the general theme of minimalism that appears to be stressed on “Ghost Stories,” “Midnight” is far more psychedelic and electronic than “Magic.” Both songs maintain that tender balance between quiet rock and massive stadium pop. “Midnight’s” lyrical message is somewhat less simple than that of “Magic,” though volume-wise, the lyrical content is equally insignificant on both tracks, as they highlight energy and emotion more than Martin’s stories. “Midnight” opens with a synth-heavy riff that almost feels as though it is actually breathing as the song progresses. Martin’s distorted and harmonized vocals gently kiss the riff as swirling keyboards surround his soft words. It is hard to believe that a song that starts out so quietly can burst into a massive electronic drop that could fit on a song by EDM artists the likes of Krewella or Alesso. An incredible point regarding “Midnight” is that despite sounding so musically different than anything Coldplay has ever released previously, the track still sounds unrecognizably “Coldplay.” The same is so for “Magic.”
While neither track would stand out on “Mylo Xyloto” or “A Rush of Blood To The Head,” they are strong releases that sway away from the band’s typical sound. Coldplay has progressed since “Yellow,” their first hit, yet fans can still listen to one song from every album and not feel particularly alarmed or surprised by any one song of a particular album. Based on these two tracks, “Ghost Stories” most likely will stand as one of the softest albums Coldplay has put out in years, and probably will not stress hit singles or pop masterpieces, opting for more complex musical themes. We might as well just wait and listen. It is rare that Coldplay truly disappoints.