On paper, the advance buzz regarding “Ghost Stories,” Coldplay’s sixth album, made it sound like a train-wreck waiting to happen. Gone would be producer Brian Eno, who helped steer the best bits of the mega-platinum “Viva la Vida” away from the U2-derivative stadium pop Coldplay seemed predisposed to lust after. In his place would be a laundry list of contemporary hit-making producers, including Timbaland, Avicci and Paul Epworth. And then there was the album’s first single, “A Sky Full of Stars,” which seemed to be making an uncomfortably earnest bid for the hearts of the electronic dance music audience, and came across as a fairly major embarrassment.
How surprising, then, to take in “Ghost Stories” as a whole, and realize that it is an underproduced, super laid-back affair that puts a wet blanket on Coldplay’s over-the-top arena grandiosity in order to dig deeper than the band has dug since its debut effort, “Parachutes.” Whether or not you think this is a positive development depends on how comfortable you were watching Coldplay trot around stadiums looking and sounding for all the world like a U2 tribute band, albeit a good one. You won’t get much of that grandstanding here. If, like me, you were beginning to find all of that pomp and circumstance a bit grating, and were pretty much never listening to the band’s back catalog anymore, then you might find “Ghost Stories” to be what it is – a pleasant surprise, the sound of a band taking a deep breath and taking stock of its situation and perhaps seeking to let a little bit of hot air out of the balloon.
People are likely to read the album’s lyrics as an autobiographical account of singer Chris Martin’s now splintered marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow. Have at it if you must, but the album doesn’t need that drama to stand on its own two wobbly knees. What’s interesting here isn’t “the divorce album,” but rather, “the Coldplay album that allowed itself to say something without the benefit of ridiculous overproduction.”
Martin’s generally bummed-out state is perhaps the greatest asset of “Ghost Stories,” as cruel as this might be to suggest. One supposes that it lends to the reflective and thoughtful nature of the album, from the lush but laid-back opening salvo of “Always In My Head” – an emotion-drenched marriage of chords and melody and Edge-like ambient guitars that skillfully avoids the maudlin – through the odd left-of-center slightly tropical pop of “Ink” and the piano-driven epic “Magic” which flirts with the EDM pulse with much more grace than does “A Sky Full of Stars,” the only real clunker on this otherwise excellent album.
Before the release of “Ghost Stories,” Coldplay seemed to have “run out of idea.” Realizing that the band still has new terrain to explore is a pleasurable experience.
– Jeff Miers
Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo, violins
Two X Four
Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
Vinay Parameswaran, conductor
Jennifer Koh is no stranger to Buffalo. She played the Barber Concerto a few years ago with the BPO, and she played on the dear departed Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series. On this disc she is joined by her former teacher, Jaime Laredo, who was just here a few weeks ago, playing with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio to close the Buffalo Chamber Music Society season. Koh is the kind of violinist who really feels her music, and the two of them make a good team.
The highlight, of course, is Bach’s great Concerto For Two Violins in D Minor, with its sublime, smoldering slow movement. This is one of the pinnacles of human achievement, rendered beautifully by Koh and Laredo, both of whom add their own personal touches. The last movement is tense and nervous. The Bach deserves the perfect four stars, but the average comes down because of the dull works by Anna Clyne and David Ludwig that follow.
Clyne’s “Prince of Clouds” is grating and dislikable, and so is David Ludwig’s “Seasons Lost.” All I can think is there was grant money flying around (the disc was funded in part by a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund For Music). You almost want to kiss Philip Glass, whose seven-minute “Echorus” is between these two works. At least with him you know what you’re getting, and it can be kind of fun and pleasantly hypnotic.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5
The Smith-Amherst Orchestra, Edwin London
I love Albany Records’ varied and unexpected projects. George Walker won a Pulitzer prize for music composition. At the same time, his fine reputation as a concert pianist began with a recital in 1945 at New York’s Town Hall, and shortly after that, he played Rachmaninoff’s Third with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
This Beethoven recording dates from 1967. The student orchestra, aside from a few rough spots, is professional level, and Walker’s own playing is straightforward and sensitive. There are pivotal points that he finesses extraordinarily well, and other parts where he takes an interesting individual approach. His playing is confident and dramatic. Above and beyond all that, the recording is fun for its grass-roots quality. Right when the last movement is about to begin and no one is breathing, someone drops something, and there’s some scrambling. At another point, you hear a thumping in time to the music – is that Walker stamping his foot?
There also is an admirable sense of purpose. No one lets anyone’s mistakes, his own or anyone else’s, wreck his concentration. Piano fans will enjoy this vivid rarity. Walker’s own sonata is an acquired taste, too abstract for me. He is joined by his son Gregory Walker on violin.
Mystery Girl: The Deluxe Edition
[Legacy/RoyBoy disc plus DVD]
The hype here is that this is the disc that, when he first heard it all together, made Roy Orbison cry tears of joy.
Let’s give hyperbole its due. It was his final album and this deluxe version of it is, in its way, better than what “Deluxe” might connote.
The story of it begins in 1985, finally a good year for Orbison in every way. He had moved to California and left his days of rotten relations with record companies behind. (Nothing rotten about Monument, mind you. It just went out of business.)
He called Jeff Lynne and said, “It’s Roy, I’m here in Malibu and I’m ready to work.” They met, Lynne called Tom Petty and by the time “Mystery Girl” was finished the lionization of Roy Orbison was on in full. He was, therefore, making a disc the way a Hall of Fame pillar of rockabilly should. He was, after all, more than a Traveling Wilbury, supergroup of all supergroups though it was. He wasn’t an all-star, he was a living, breathing musical origin story. Just as they had at his Hall of Fame induction, greats practically lined up to take part: along with Lynne, Bono, George Harrison, T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, ubiquitous coastal drummer Jim Keltner.
What you’ve got here in this Deluxe Edition of his final album are all manner of singularities and terrific demos and works in progress. Despite occasionally primitive sound and circumstances, the rawness of the newly heard extras reveals that, for all the history making LP, Lynne may have, in his style, overproduced Orbison, who is, frankly, never better than he is in the most basic rockabilly circumstances, where it’s just his incredible voice and songs coming together with a guitar, a keyboard, a bass and a drummer.
Added is a DVD documentary on “Mystery Girl” song by song and eight Orbison videos, including four previously unseen. (Jeff Simon)