Coldplay's 'Ghost Stories': What the Critics Are Saying

12:31 PM PST 05/20/2014 by Roy Trakin

Chris Martin's melancholia and an electronica ambience mark the album’s minimal scope and downbeat vibe.

The critics have never been very kind to Coldplay, so it’s no surprise the reaction has been relatively lukewarm to the band’s sixth album and first since the splashy Mylo Xylo back in 2011.  Maybe it’s merely boomercentric white rock critics put off by Chris Martin’s decidedly unrock-star aw-shucks humility, or perhaps they’re just plain jealous of his legion of female admirers, a problem which seems to also plague the likes of fellow heartthrobs like Sting and John Mayer.

At any rate, the long knives are out for Ghost Stories, a rather modest, nine-song, 43-minute album that brims over with Martin’s sorrow over the “conscious uncoupling” of his relationship with estranged wife Gwyneth Paltrow. And besides the inclination to tell the dude to man up and stop being such a wussy, it offers a deeper, atmospheric longing to the band’s back catalog of arm-waving, body-spinning anthems, a glimpse at the emptiness beneath the brave exterior, the “Ghosts” inside the machine. Metacritic.com gives it a cumulative rating of 62 (out of 100) based on 27 reviews. 

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The Atlantic
’s Derek Thompson proved typical of the critical reception in his review, calling Ghost Stories the band’s “most forgettable album ever,” An admitted fan of the band, he says it’s  “neither complicated nor thrilling … [but] state-of-the-art hydrotherapy tank -- a lavish, electric-powered whirling vat of feelings … an electronica meditation on the end of a relationship.”

Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz proved a little more generous, acknowledging that while the album is “devoid of big moments … it is refreshing to hear Martin try to confide a sentiment instead of bellow it.” He concludes, “For once, reveling in the darkness feels like a great idea.”

Kyle Anderson’s B review for Entertainment Weekly calls Ghost Stories “a transitional album … the sound of a band paying homage to their past … while pawing at the future.”

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Rolling Stone’s three-and-a-half star review finds Caryn Ganz calling the album “unlike anything the band has done before. Instead of broad, arms-outstretched choruses and irresistible, foot-stomping anthems, there are whimpers and wails that recall the anguished warbling of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak or Bon Iver.”

N.Y. Daily News Jim Farber is unmoved, calling the two-star album “transparent and unsexy,” [which] “finds Martin curled up in the fetal position, mewling non-stop about the love that let him down.” He concludes, “A heartbreak is a terrible thing for a songwriter to waste. But the ache of Ghost Stories doesn’t haunt. It bores.”

Pitchfork’s Larry Fitzmaurice is rather blunt in his 4.4 assessment: “You’re left with a series of songs that are fragile, plain and forgettable.”

Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot cites a lack of “variation” in the album -- previously a strong suit of the band’s songwriting -- for his two- (out of four-) star review. “Over nine songs, Martin and company create a mood and then stick with it -- to a fault.”

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