People don't listen to a Coldplay song, Marshall McLuhan would have said, they slip into it like a warm bath. Dulcet melodies spill pleasingly into the vat like aromatic oils. The musical palette is a soapy broth. The words are pointless bubbles. Sometimes, soft propulsion technology is employed to stir things up. Sometimes, everything just sort of … sits there.
Such aqueous songwriting isn’t new. Artists like Kenny Loggins and Toto belonged to a 1970s genre called “yacht rock” for a reason—it blended easily with waves lapping a hull. "Bath rock," its even calmer descendant coming of age in the late 1990s, is better suited to people, like myself, who prefer their sonic waters even less choppy. After all, I've written thousands of words about Coldplay for this site. I love this band, not for its efforts to break rules, but for its underrated ability to play within the rules of mainstream pop to compose relentlessly memorable music. There’s no rule that saying songs have to be complicated or thrilling.
But Ghost Stories, Coldplay's latest album, is really, really neither complicated nor thrilling. It transcends the category of “bath rock" mostly by leaving behind the second syllable. The album is a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy tank—a lavish, electric-powered, whirling vat of feelings. The guitars crouch behind the synths. The mood clings desperately to melancholy wistfulness throughout. The best-written songs—the looping intro, “Always in My Head,” the acoustic throwback “Oceans,” the piano-ballad finale “O”—scarcely have what a listener might recognize as a chorus.