Chris Martin, the frontman of superstar pop band Coldplay has always been an intensely personal individual, sharing his intimate feelings not with the press, but with his fans through his emotional though sometimes vague lyrics. There have been particular headline-grabbing moments, of course. Martin married actress Gwyneth Paltrow in 2003 and had two children with her, Apple and Moses. Then in March 2014, the couple announced that they were splitting up, after 10 years together.
"We have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate," they said in a joint statement. "We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been."
A brief listen to Coldplay's new album, "Ghost Stories," which is now streaming in its entirety on iTunes, indicates that the decision to separate likely wasn't mutual. Almost every song on the album is about Martin's heartbreak is and his dream of returning his life to the way it was before the relationship started to crumble.
"For a second I was in control/I had it once, I lost it though," he sings in "True Love" over a soundbed of softly thumping electronic percussion and synthetic strings, before pleading in the chorus, "Tell me you love me if you don't than lie, oh, lie to me." Interestingly, the song features one of the only guitar leads; the slow, melodic string bends of Jonny Buckland sound sadder than the tone of Martin’s vocals.
Even in "Magic," when Martin sings, "Call it magic, cut me into two, with all your magic I disappear from view/ And I can't get over, can't get over you," he sounds numb and weary, but hardly devastated. His voice is delicate and the accompanying music is soft and ethereal, as if Martin feels most comfortable in a sedated, dreamlike state, even when revealing some of his most confessional lyrics.
Most of "Ghost Stories" is composed of simple love songs that contrast organic vocals and guitars with electronic instrumentation. The band members have described it as the mellow, melodic album it wanted to write when they began 2011’s "Mylo Xyloto" and their progressive and experimental ideas led them to create their most ambitious release. Yet the heartfelt melodicism of "Ghost Stories" is undercut by softly skittering beats reminiscent of a scaled-back Massive Attack. When he's plugged in, Buckland plays celestial passages ranging from the digital delay-bathed strumming of U2 to the single-note-plucking of latter-day Peter Gabriel.
What prevents "Ghost Stories" from being merely a melancholy downer is the inventive mix of sounds and styles that permeate the disc. In "Midnight," Martin’s voice harmonizes with electronically treated vocals; the acoustic strums of the weary "Oceans" are enhanced by clicky, blippy beats, lush strings and vocals that echo like a voice in a cave. And "Another’s Arms" is augmented by shimmering female vocals and wavering guitars redolent of My Bloody Valentine, and builds with bobbing, almost funky basslines. The most upbeat tune, "A Sky Full of Stars," is both the most dynamic and heartrending. It begins with Martin at the piano pounding away and joyously singing (Martin also plays transcendent piano on "O"), and blossoms into a euphoric dancefloor beat and complimentary rhythm. At the same time, Martin delivers the tragically romantic lines: "I don't care, go on and tear me apart/I don't care if you do/'Cause in a sky full of stars I think of seeing you."
"Ghost Stories" benefits not from all the twists and turns Coldplay have used on their past couple albums, but through the sheer simplicity of the arrangements. While the songs might be straightforward, their presentation is far from that. Had Coldplay delivered an acoustic album of sad songs, "Ghost Stories" would have been impacting in the short term, but ultimately forgettable. By utilizing modern beats, computerized instrumentation, and of-the-moment production techniques, the band creates a compelling push-pull sound that's ultimately more haunting and enduring than even Martin's heartfelt lyrics.