Just listened to Coldplay's new album Mylo Xyloto and it's decent. Strong in some parts, a little slow in others. Not as satisfying as Viva La Vida, but it sounds impeccable at least.
Notoriously cooler-than-thou music blog Pitchfork Media has a surprisingly fair review on their website:http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15953-mylo-xyloto/
"No one knows what it means, but it's provocative… gets the people going." A couple of Chris Martin's good buddies memorably flipped this obscure bit of Blades of Glory dialogue on Watch the Throne to annotate the purchase of Margiela jackets, but it's every bit as applicable to the title of Mylo Xyloto and speaks toward Coldplay's lofty ambitions on it. A new Coldplay album is the sort of thing that's used as a health check for the record industry, and the band is very much aware that they could just release "a new Coldplay album" that would leave everyone involved satisfied-- this is essentially what happened on 2005's X&Y, their fastest seller and also their weakest LP according to many. But being criticized as bantamweight compared to peers like U2, R.E.M., or Radiohead has clearly worn on them-- and truth is, they're all the better for their guilty conscience about a total lack of post-punk credentials. While Coldplay will always be more enjoyable than groundbreaking and their artistic advances seen as smart troubleshooting than divine intervention, Mylo Xyloto works because the band once again manages to sound like Coldplay without sounding like any of their previous LPs, maintaining their stadium-spanning grandeur while subtly challenging preconceptions.
While retaining the studio services and crucial cosign of Brian Eno, it's a relief that their most carefully thought-out work initially sounds less ambitious than Viva La Vida, a record whose orchestral and political bombast felt at the very least a necessary act of aggressive rebranding. Mylo Xyloto is brighter in both attitude and especially timbre, sleeker, more emphatic and up to the task of being a capital-E Event. Though their collaboration with Rihanna on "Princess of China" makes it all the more explicit, when you're at Coldplay's level, pop acts are your competition and Mylo places itself in a lineage of ultra-mainstream rock records spanning from Born in the U.S.A. to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix-- swaddled in synths and gilded by state-of-the-art production, but never too off-putting if you still insist that "real music" is played by men with guitars.
Indeed, the militant, pound-the-dashboard beat that powers "Hurts Like Heaven" sounds like the band jockeying for the Boss' nod of approval. It's a remarkably aerodynamic piece of all-purpose inspirational rock that never gets too pushy even with Martin's meaningful/meaningless proclamations ("You use your heart as a weapon/ And it hurts like heaven"), tweaking its classicist template with a slight Auto-Tune on the falsetto harmonies. Likewise, the imperial march of "Paradise" is wheelhouse Coldplay, as is Martin's unfortunate tendency to stretch out syllables for rhymes that really aren't worth saving. But its power has little to do with whatever Martin's going on about (dreaming of paradise, mostly)-- it's all about how they unabashedly flirt with contemporary R&B production, cranking the drums way up in the mix and the massing the vocals on the chorus to overwhelming, Pavlovian effect. They don't want to completely do away with Coldplay qua Coldplay-- they're still four normal-looking guys who introduced themselves with frail post-The Bends Britrock like "Yellow" and "Trouble". But they continually ask, why limit themselves to that?
Of course, some of their limitations aren't really a matter of choice. While there's no shortage of venomous carping at Coldplay's expense, I've never heard anyone complain about Jon Buckland's guitar tone or the rhythm section not being up to snuff. All sonic tinkering aside, Martin is still a full-time target serving as the perfect avatar for Coldplay, undeniably well-meaning, painfully earnest, and lord, does he try. When Martin tells you that Mylo Xyloto is a conceptual love story inspired by the White Rose movement and The Wire, don't you at least believe that he believes it? So he's still a sucker for big parables told like he's the first to come up with them-- the innocence lost on the Muse-like stargazer "Charlie Brown" is documented awkwardly enough ("Took a car downtown where the lost boys meet/ Took a car downtown and took what they offered me"), even before you deal with the use of the Peanuts character as some sort of entry-level embodiment of adolescent purity. Likewise, though it's commendable that a multi-platinum band on its fifth record could make a swooning, waltz-time ballad called "Us Against the World" notable for not laying it on too thick, Martin pops off a line, "Drunken like a Daniel in a lions' den," like someone who's somehow just managed to hear "Hallelujah" for the first time.
Still, the collection of softies is among their best-- the measured beauty of breakup weeper "Up in Flames" and "U.F.O." confidently update the guilelessness of Parachutes through a self-described and self-explanatory "Enoxification." But maybe restraint's not what you're looking for out of a Coldplay album, and if that's the case, none of the ballads have the sort of shameless goosebump triggering of "Fix You" or "The Scientist". Which isn't to say that Mylo lacks populist thrill; it's just trying to mine alternative sources. They've sidled up toward music of more hedonistic ideals before, especially on A Rush of Blood to the Head; Martin's vocals on "Clocks" worked incredibly well filtered through dance remixes, while the ecstatic surge of "Daylight" really needed no translation. And thankfully, the revolutionary rhetoric of Mylo is based on love in this club rather than dope, guns, and fucking in the streets.
The aforementioned "Princess of China" is an insistent, mechanized grind that fits just as easily on Mylo as the next Rihanna album, though it wouldn't be a single-- everyone seems to be taking it just a little too seriously. The important thing is that it'll sound great at the Grammys. And "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" will surely work well as a festival closer: As a call to arms, it's pretty much nonsense, Martin's already infamous "I'd rather be a comma than a full stop" threatening to bring "Teardrop" to a dead halt. But then you remember Coldplay aren't just Martin-- it's Will Champion's kick drum guiding its four minutes of skyward propulsion, one of the cruelly underrated Buckland's pealing, major-key guitar leads (think "Strawberry Swing"), and, yes, Martin's wordless cooing coming together in a way that's sui generis Coldplay-- a band on top of a game they really don't have much competition in.
These are the moments I think about when people lament the lack of a monoculture-- so often we speak of indie bands that "should be huge" and songs that "could be hits" in an alternate universe. But with "Teardrop" and "Hurts Like Heaven", there's a thrill of knowing these songs can, should, and will be on the radio that you just can't recreate. With all due respect, while M83 shoot for a similar extroverted exhilaration on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming-- the penultimate electro rush of "Don't Let It Break Your Heart" proves both bands are ever closer to intersecting-- the idea that it could fill arenas still involves wishful thinking. It's still one man's project, whereas Coldplay was built for this from day one. It shouldn't matter, but it does-- while so many bands at their status revert to bloated contentment or some vague idea of rockist salvation, Mylo Xyloto finds Coldplay successfully continuing to explore the tension of wanting to be one of the best bands in the world and having to settle for being one of the biggest.