"Is it okay to like Coldplay?" I wondered self-consciously before listening to the British mega-band's sixth studio album. "Fuck it," I thought. I like Coldplay - and not even just their first two efforts.
The latest record is curiously timed, coming out seven weeks after lead singer Chris Martin and wife Gwyneth Paltrow introduced us to "conscious uncoupling," so it's not hard to guess what Ghost Stories is all about.
But surely a decade of marriage to Goop deserves more than this tepid, meandering affair. At its best, Ghost Stories is pleasant and hummable - lead single Magic, for instance, about falling in love after a big breakup, makes good on the album's stripped-back vibe with a simple drums/bass/piano combo and a winsome chorus. (But it doesn't sound like it would be a single on any other Coldplay album.)
Back on board are producers Rik Simpson, Paul Epworth and Daniel Green from the band's last record. Uneven as it was, Mylo Xyloto made an attempt at something interesting: a concept rock opera. And at least there were some stadium-worthy tunes. Not so on Ghost Stories, which stays underwhelming and quiet for eight of nine tracks, recalling both bad U2 and Justin Timberlake's weirder 20/20 Experience experiments along the way.
Chris Martin's signature falsetto is charming, but not so much that we don't miss his band's bigger sound. The crescendoing, Avicii-produced prog-house number A Sky Full Of Stars is on the right track but doesn't come until the end, which is too late.
We all love to revel in a real tearjerker (Someone Like You, anyone?), but these whiney odes are heartbreak songs minus the heart.
Top track: Magic