Album: “Ghost Stories” (Parlophone/Atlantic)
Chris Martin’s breakup album deals with love and loss in generalities rather than specifics. But then, not many words rhyme with “Gwyneth.”
“I’m ready for the pain,” Coldplay’s frontman sings on “Oceans.” “I’m ready for a change.”
Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow announced in March they were uncoupling after more than a decade of marriage, which intensified anticipation Coldplay might stray from its familiar formula on the band’s sixth album, “Ghost Stories.” The lyrics do suggest Martin’s trying to escape ghosts in his past, but he surrounds his singing with the digital drone of synthesizers and never digs too deep to describe his heartache. “Blood on the Tracks” this is not.
Instead, the band’s music remains appealing mostly for its surface sheen. Several arrangements on the nine-track set are intimate by arena-band standards, and the best sound like Martin singing in his bedroom. “Another’s Arms” offers a dreamy chorus for Bic wavers, and the band cranks it up on “A Sky Full of Stars,” which was co-produced by Avicii and has a thump and hook to please the club crowd.
Most of the album was created with producer Paul Epworth, best known for his Grammy- and Oscar-winning work with Adele, as well as Florence + the Machine and Foster the People. But Epworth doesn’t bring out the best version of Coldplay.
On “Ghost Stories,” there’s little piano, guitar or percussion, and there are few memorable melodies or surprises, which is why a discordant guitar note on “True Love” stands out. The soft focus of the words and music makes for sterile gauze, which is one way to treat a wounded heart.
— Steven Wine, Associated Press
Album: “A Letter Home” (Reprise)
Neil Young’s sporadic concept records aren’t for everyone. “A Letter Home” should be.
While still an esoteric venture — Young recorded it in a refurbished 1947 Voice-O-Graph — the songs he chose are familiar ones, making this more accessible than previous out in left field Young releases.
Among the songs: Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country,” Bruce Springsteen’s “My Home Town,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and “Crazy,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.” They are a reflection of Young’s roots and musical backbone, made all the more clear by the heartfelt and intimate delivery.
Now, back to the box.
Young, 68, was captivated by the Voice-O-Graph that Jack White had restored and made available at his recording studio in Nashville, Tenn. Typically used by amateurs to record one song at a time, which is immediately laid down on vinyl, Young decided to cram himself into the phone booth-sized contraption and record an entire record.
The songs sound like they came from another age — complete with scratches, pops and imperfections usually only heard on old vinyl records. Adding to the idiosyncratic approach, Young fashioned the entire record as a letter home to his deceased mother, delivering her a playlist of some of his favorite tunes.
It’s clear these songs are a part of Young’s musical DNA, and it’s almost as if the listener is being invited into his living room for a private concert — delivered from inside a phone booth, of course.
— Scott Bauer, Associated Press
Album: “Unrepentant Geraldines” (Mercury Classics)
Tori Amos’ 14th album marks a return to her traditional approach — some call it “chamber pop” — after a 2011 experiment with classical music.
The piano playing and singing on “Unrepentant Geraldines” are strong and straightforward, with Amos’ sure touch and confessional approach, while the lyrics can be dense and occasionally confounding even as they deal with the rigors of aging and the challenges women of all ages face in a male-dominated, youth-obsessed society.
The songs do not offer simple answers, but there is pleasure and joy in the process, and warmth in her descriptions of the challenging relationships she describes. And, as she deals with turning 50, Amos offers hope to others by suggesting in song that 50 may be “the new black.”
She takes many of her cues from visual artists, including “16 Shades of Blue” — a reference to a painter’s palette — and the title track is inspired by an etching by a 19th century Irish artist.
The first is a plaintive, multitracked dissection of a slow motion breakup tinged with the complaint that “there are those who say that I’m too old to play” that also chronicles the pressures women feel at 15 and 33. The second is about the quest for freedom, with an attack on corporate greed and the vow that “I’m going to heal myself from your religion.” Both are beautifully produced and arranged.
— Gregory Katz, Associated Press