Coldplay – ‘Mylo Xyloto’: 7.0
People give Coldplay too much of a hard time. Frequently discounted by many a ‘credible’ music critique and ‘real’ music fan as nothing more than an MOR band representing the mainstream (a practically tabooed demographic that nobody wants to be a part of but, by definition, almost everybody is), so they try to innovate. They then get called out on forgetting their roots, and so try to change again.
Quite possibly, without wanting kicking up much of a fuss about it being the gentlemanly rockers they are, Coldplay have always been ones to tackles their issues head-on. An admirable trait, but the real problem is that they’ve (read: Chris Martin) has almost always managed to botch something up when trying to do so. When ‘Parachutes’ was released, Martin wasn’t contented with the overall sound and found new ways of sewing and stitching together a vibe that personified quintessential radio rock for ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, improving their appeal and bank balances exponentially. Travel a little closer to the present and we observe another shortcoming: after the chiming anthem ‘Speed Of Sound’, third album ‘X&Y’ concealed, behind it’s innocently passé and minimalist cover, some of the most aggressively turgid rock banalities the band have ever put their name to. The offensively depressing whinings of Martin and his bandmates reverberated so loudly that even three years hence it’s release, they were voted ‘The Band Most Likely To Put You To Sleep’ in a poll conducted by hotel chain Travelodge. So on their next outing they became French revolutionaries and donned matching outfits to complete the image. ‘Viva la Vida’ harboured some of their best work to date, but the album as a whole suffered from fatty filler that could’ve easily been trimmed off (‘Reign of Love’, ‘The Escapist’, ‘Life In Technicolor’) despite the extremely infrequent but extremely impressive innovation. So, have the years bestowed upon them the ability to finally produce a consistently good album?
If they have, ‘Mylo Xyloto’ isn’t quite there just yet. But it does do something they’ve never quite managed: it comes across as bold. Not just in the beautifully graffitied canvas of the album art; the boldness is integrated deep down in the very construction of ‘Mylo Xyloto’, harbouring some of Coldplay’s finest work to date. On the satisfyingly infrequent occasion though, there are moments that recall Coldplay’s best-left-forgotten moments (‘Us Against The World’, ‘U.F.O.’); proof that, even five albums deep into their career, they’ve still got a bit of learning to do.
Even so, it’s always been an unwritten rule that, with Coldplay, it was always more a question of taking standard melodies and inflating them tenfold to create something worthy of the name anthemic. But ‘Mylo Xyloto’ has some very good melodies. It has quite a few of them in fact. Boisterous opener ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ sees Coldplay tune their guitars to ‘perennial chime’ mode and sound more like U2 than ever. It’s an adventurous and luxuriously colourful anarchic call to arms against anomic adversaries as Martin boasts: “The streets are rising and you’d rather sing: ‘Don’t let ’em take control'” over erratic synths and some of their greatest guitar hooks. At first, the prospect of a social revolution led by Chris Martin is little more than ammunition for any number of late-night satire shows but Johnny Buckland’s guitar, sounding more muscular than ever, manages to channel the song’s vigorous energy in all the right places. First single ‘Paradise’ pleasantly adds to the album’s appeal with it’s explosive production and ethereal climatic chanting, but it’s ‘Charlie Brown’ that steals the show for the first half of the album. Over an enormous collection of chaotic synth and guitar soaring majestically from strength to strength, for once it feels like Coldplay’s infectiously fervent live showmanship has been recaptured on one of their records.
Further along, buzz single ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’ finally makes more sense than it ever could have done as a stand-alone song, nestling comfortably at the heart of the album and triumphantly proclaiming ‘Mylo Xyloto’s key message, inspired by the White Rose Movement, of rising against oppression at times of unfair government. That in itself is a message that could derail Coldplay completely from their lofty positions on grounds of being overtly sentimental but thankfully it’s been attacked with sense and precaution, so as not to sound patronising, things do get a bit grisly with ‘Us Against The World’ though, so there’s the first skippable track if you’re not a fan of Martin’s deepest possible vocal register croaking over a lonely acoustic guitar. The George Orwell-inspired ‘Major Minus’ – originally the B-side to ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’ – is a clear stand-out, not just because it’s instrumentation recalls another of their notable influences: Radiohead, but because of it’s knowing, urgent paranoia. Everything from the finger-pointing, cautioning lyrics warning about totalitarian rule to the snarling falsetto two-thirds in (“I can hear them climbing the stairs/I got my right side fighting while my left side’s under the chairs”) sounds like Nineteen Eighty-Four viewed through a Thom Yorke lens circa. ‘OK Computer’. Brilliant stuff.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about ‘Mylo Xyloto’ is it’s unexpected input from Rihanna. Featuring on ‘Princess of China’, the album’s only real 100% pop song, she lends her higher register to harmonise with Chris on a song about a betrayed love that could’ve been something more than it turned out to be. Fragile as it all seems, the song pounds along to a heavy beat and effervescent synth action. The song contains a solid gold pop hook amongst other accolades pop lovers could bestow upon it but it’s placement on the album, right from the instruments used to create it to Rihanna’s involvement, sounds out of place, and the pathetic repeats of “You really hurt me” at the song’s climax could bring everything ‘Mylo Xyloto’ has strived to do thus far crashing to rubble. Ignoring the vapid ‘Up In Flames’ that succeeds it, the crashing instrumentation on ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’ soon returns things to a sense of normalcy, combining cascading piano phrases with an uplifting rock backing that could’ve fitted into ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, the only difference being Eno’s unabashedly stadium-sized production. It’s an exhausting song to hear so late into the album, particularly as it’s sandwiched between two dangerously hopeless ballads.
‘Mylo Xyloto’ is best when it’s message it being pumped out with the vigour of thousands of angry rioters chanting in unison messages of freedom, equality, unity and love. The more personal, discrete moments don’t hold a candle to when everything is blown up and viewed from a world-wide perspective. That’s where ‘Mylo Xyloto’s strength lies: in the fact that it addresses it’s goal from all kinds of perspectives, from one-on-one sympathies to fights for the rights of the oppressed, to varying degrees of success. But in light of Coldplay having made their most accessible and yet daring album to date, it’s hard not to commend them for producing an ambitiously decorated array of songs, some of which rank among their best work yet.
Download: ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, ‘Charlie Brown’, ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’, ‘Major Minus’.
Digital Release: October 24, 2011
Physical Release: October 25, 2011