What the fuck, Britain? It may be because I emigrated in 2003, but I just don’t understand you any more. Somehow, somewhere, you got your wires crossed. You turned the bland into rockstars, and now you’ve started electing complete lunatics to political office. Listen – YOU’VE GOT IT THE WRONG WAY ROUND!!! You’re supposed to vote for intelligent, reasonable, sensible people, and you’re supposed to listen to music made by batshit mental drug-addled social inadequates. Instead we’ve got nutters in Whitehall and Brussels, and the likes of Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran and Bastille on the radio. You have consciously uncoupled yourselves from the right and proper way of things.
And now, in the same week UKIP win the European elections, along comes a new Coldplay album. What larks. Ghost Stories, it’s called. What kind of ghost stories are we talking here? The spinning heads and projectile vomiting of The Exorcist? Corridors of blood and decomposing corpses in baths a la The Shining? Paranormal Activity-style severed heads bouncing off the floor? Alas, no. Imagine if The Shining had featured Jack Torrance spending the winter managing a Premier Inn in Stevenage, whilst struggling to write a biography of Eamonn Holmes. That kind of ghost story.
By now I don’t need to tell you what this sounds like, do I? Pitter-pattering sub-Kid A electronic rhythms. Sub-Sigur Ros keyboard washes. Sub-U2 (yes, that bad) anthemic, shimmering guitars. One tasteful, restrained, half-arsed, down-tempo ballad after another. It plods like PC Plod with big lead weights in his big plodding boots. It sounds rush-recorded; everybody involved is audibly phoning it in. Avicii pitches in on clumsy, dated “banger” (it’s all relative) ‘Sky Full of Stars’, and it’s telling that, when Coldplay want to crank it up a notch, they need to bring in hired help.
And the lyrics. Jesus. You may have missed the story, but apparently Chris & Gwyneth broke up earlier this year, and Ghost Stories is Coldplay’s breakup album. But if you’re expecting a heartbroken howl of rage like The Wedding Present’s Seamonsters or Big Star’s Third, or a long dark night of the soul like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call, then you’re shit out of luck. Even the pain of separation from his wife and children can’t raise Chris Martin from his lyrical or vocal torpor. Faced with the biggest emotional trauma of his relatively young life, Martin can only muster clunking lines like “If you were to ask me, after all that we’ve been through/’Still believe in magic?’ – well yes I do!” or “A flock of birds, hovering above/Just a flock of birds, that’s how you think of love”. Ouch. And when Martin tries to get sexy (“Used to be your arms around me, your body on my body”) or intense (“All I know is that I love you so much that it hurts”) he delivers the lines with all the passion of someone ordering a pizza delivery. For somebody else. His voice ranges from a simpering mumble to that ridiculous falsetto he continues to try to pull off, despite considerable warnings from history; and despite my innate sympathy for anyone going through a marriage breakup, I just want to give him a good slap in the face and tell him to listen to The Whipping Boy if he really wants to know how to do this sort of thing properly.
Even by Coldplay’s peerless standards then, this is a dull, lifeless record, its brevity (9 tracks) its only positive quality. It’s as if they set out to prove that suffering doesn’t always create great art, and they’ve fully succeeded. Somewhere in LA there’s a certain actress sipping on kale tea and scoffing a quinoa butty, thinking Is this really the best you can do? and realising with considerable relief that she’s dodged a bullet.