‘X&Y’ + more letters = ‘Mylo Xyloto’ by Jake Robinson

Posted on November 9, 2011

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Coldplay have always held a noble aim in their music. Like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and U2, they strive to deliver music to the masses, while at the same time producing work of artistic merit. So while they straddle this divide, they cast envious glances with one eye at Justin Bieber and Arcade Fire the other. Mylo Xyloto is their most recent attempt to satisfy these partitions.

With their previous effort, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, they nearly hit this art/pop nirvana. Drawing upon some of the simple beauty of Parachutes, the alternative rock of A Rush of Blood to the Head, and the stadium grandiose of X&Y, Viva La Vida was the highest-selling album of 2008, and also garnered swags of awards. Shanghaiing famed electronic-soundscape artist (and founding Roxy Music member and U2 co-producer) Brian Eno, Viva La Vida appeared to proclaim that Coldplay could shake off the detractors who swarmed after the soulless stadium filler X&Y.

The Coldplay boys, with sexy Chris Martin front and just left-of-centre.

Viva la Vida came out less than a year after Radiohead’s In Rainbows redefined the importance of the album as an artistic construct in contemporary popular music. In a world where iTunes allows you to purchase any and all tracks individually, collated into playlists digested on shuffle, In Rainbows threw down the artistic gauntlet. A perfectly assembled collection of ten songs clocking in at forty-two minutes, designed to perfectly flow between each other, all while the ‘honesty box’ payment method literally asked the consumer to re-evaluate the worth of an album.

Viva la Vida was released under this paradigm, which has returned the album as the pre-eminent form of popular musical expression. To crystallise this, the title track went number #1 across the world after only being available when pre-ordering the album (and overshadowing the official first single ‘Violet Hill’).

Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida’ album cover.

Viva la Vida, while not a radical shift in sound, was more of a mutation; bearing French revolutionary slogans, faux military regalia tinged with splashes of vivid colour and, most importantly, the songs. ‘Viva la Vida’, ‘Violet Hill’ and ‘Strawberry Swing’ amongst the strongest in Coldplay’s canon and all featuring excremental elements. However, for every off kilter instrumental success (‘Chinese Sleep Chant’, ‘The Escapist’), there was a dirge stadium rock song murdered by horrible lyrics (‘Lost’, ‘Yes’). Listening to the subsequently released EP, Prospekt’s March, and in particular the stellar cuts ‘Life in Technicolor II’ and ‘Glass of Water’, you couldn’t but help feel that Coldplay had all the ingredients to make a truly classic album; they only needed to fit them together.

Coldplay is a group highly receptive to outside influence. This is not only reflected in the musical influences which have resulted in a couple of plagiarism lawsuits (to avoid this, two songs on Mylo Xyloto are credited to Peter Allen and Leonard Cohen), but through the conceptual influence of what their importance and role as a band is. Chris Martin regally discusses his reaction to critical reviews, their influence on his work, and the general feeling of the band perceives their music. This self–reflexivity leaves their music feeling over-thought, compressed, as if each note is shaped not by how the band feels it should be, but how they think it should sound.

Mylo Xyloto – certainly looks poppy.

Mylo Xyloto has been billed as their ‘pop’ album. Early teaser ‘Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall’ brought along a steady electro kick drum that could have been lifted from the latest David Guetta album or a 90’s euro house song. What “Every Teardrop’ signalled was the shift towards R’nB and house influences and a greater use of electronic betas and synths.

It also introduced the thematic concerns which pervade Mylo Xyloto. Many, many times throughout this record Martin makes very awkward references to “kids” and “rebels” and “taking cars downtown”; also the key concerns of Arcade Fire’s all conquering The Suburbs. Lyrical subtlety has never been Martin’s forte, and this vague youthful rebellion is not overtly overplayed throughout. Martin’s greatest strength as a lyricist is his ability to communicate universal feelings in a personal manner. Whenever he tends to try and make grand possible metaphors (read: the entirety of X&Y) the songs start to fall over themselves. When he keeps it simple and honest (‘Don’t Panic’, ‘In My Place’, ‘Strawberry Swing’) it seems to work; even if they really don’t make any sense.

Mylo Xyloto opens promisingly. The title track is a grand jangling soundscape that feeds into ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, a snorter of a track that rips along at tremendous speed. ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ epitomises this cauldron of influences: rock tempo, spiralling guitar lines, synth-backing, electronic beats with pop melodies and harmonies cascading all around. Lead single ‘Paradise’ falls along the preconceptional lines of Coldplay; there’s plenty there for the haters but also everything there for the infatuated. ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Us Against the World’ similarly pass by as typical Coldplay songs without really standing out. ‘Every Teardrop’ reappears and the preceding soundscape ‘M.M.I.X.’ underlines how epic the introductory chords sound. However, like the album as a whole, ‘Every Teardrop’ seems to start off with a great idea that strays and ends up feeling somehow unsatisfying. The money shot of the album, though, is the Rihanna collaboration ‘Princess of China’. Scattershot syths, stadium sized guitars, R’nB beats all jumble together with Chris and Ri. It’s all a bit of a mess that really shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. The album unfortunately rather peters out, without too much to hold your attention.

Coldplay possess the arsenal to make their vision of mass-marketed pop music and art credible but they as of yet haven’t been able to quite make it stick together. However, you can’t help but think it should be better. No amount of Eno studio trickery or Bajan super sidekicks can hide that Mylo Xyloto is short on knock-out songs, and none come close to ‘Viva la Vida’ or ‘Clocks’.

While Mylo Xyloto falls a fair bit short of their impossible targets you can’t help but revel in Coldplay’s attempts.

Music with Jake Robinson.

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s music staff writer (yeah, ladies). For more of his column, “Music with Jake Robinson”, check out The Thin Pop Line or Suck It and See: Arctic Monkeys

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