Coldplay are often considered a bit of a marmite band — you either love them or hate them. Revered by some, many brand them as too mainstream and bland, placing them on the ‘uncool shelf’ with other post-Britpop bands like Keane and Snow Patrol. Of course, some people don’t fit into this crass spectrum (myself included). We fall into the ‘I don’t mind Coldplay’ area, and are prone to occasionally playing A Rush of Blood to the Head and believing they are a good band. But, with music snobbery, we come to realise that Coldplay are extremely predictable and middle-of-the-road.
Obviously then, when a new Coldplay album comes out it’s not exactly going to be a Kid A, but just another Coldplay album; a small tweak of difference here and there, but at the end of the day it’s still the same old sound. However, following the success of fourth album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, Coldplay have continued their change in musical direction from their first three albums with their fifth LP titled Mylo Xyloto.
Your first question might relate to the album’s strange name. Apparently it’s a concept album which tells a love story between ‘Mylo’ and ‘Xyloto’. Yes it’s pretentious, but then again at least it’s better than calling it Coldplay or 5 (sorry Beyoncé). The art rock pretensions don’t end there though: the graffiti-covered artwork, crediting Brian Eno on “enoxification”, and the inclusion of three tracks less than a minute long (consisting of pleasant sounding instrumentals that act as intros for their respective following songs) provide more than enough of evidence for such a claim.
Yet, the strange irony is that this is Coldplay’s most pop-sounding album, with an LP of echoing sonic space rhythms and uplifting electro melodies. Third single ‘Princess of China’, being a duet with Rihanna, pretty much sums this up — when you enlist one of pop’s leading stars to feature on your album, if this isn’t a sign that you are deserting your rock ideals I don’t know what is. You can’t imagine Rihanna featuring on ‘The Scientist’ now, can you? In truth, the song is quite good; with a sonic starting melody and electronic beats behind her, Rihanna gives a powerful performance and makes it sound fresh. Yet it pales in comparison to Rihanna’s current hit with Calvin Harris ‘We Found Love’, and when she is singing “I could’ve been a Princess/You’d be a king”, it sounds more like a Rihanna solo song as she dwarfs the music and the band. Indeed, when she is singing in union with Chris Martin, it is somewhat cringeworthy.
Other singles ‘Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall’ and ‘Paradise’ are similar with their catchy pop basslines and soaring melodies, which produce music perfect for emotional TV adverts. Both are fast-paced electro pop songs in the style of ‘Life in Technicolor’, which build up to those stirring choruses that will become anthems for the masses. It’s good news: Coldplay are sounding upbeat and positive — no doubt to their abandonment of trying to compete with U2 and Radiohead — and are finding their own feet.
But this is not an album of singles. ‘Charlie Brown’ comes close, with a space-like rhythm and a melody that sounds better the more times you hear it — despite the start sounding like the Eurodance opening of Brüno. ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ will get you tapping your feet, but overall it sounds like a remix of an Owl City song. ‘Major Minus’ is interesting and raw-sounding with its open guitar riffs, and is about as rocky as Coldplay get.
However, its in the ballads where the band truly fails to live up to its past songs. The folky ‘Us Against the World’ is so slow you feel like you could fall asleep, the lyrics “Sing slow-ow-ow-ow it down” surely meant ironically. ‘U.F.O’ and ‘Up With the Birds’ are both too plodding and uneventful; the latter fails so badly as a ballad that the band seems to give up on it mid-song and produce an electronic Irish jig (which to be fair does create a good ending), while ‘U.F.O.’ sounds as dry as a Jason Mraz song. ‘Up in Flames’ is similarly arid — sweet, yet too sentimental with its school keyboard metronome beat as backing.
A standout track among this filler is ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’, which is everything you want from a Coldplay song — beautiful, inspirational and emotive. Driven by an uplifting dance-tinged piano riff, the song is perfect for a sunny day in the park. The song’s real genius is that it successfully collides the sound of Mylo Xyloto with conventional Coldplay; this is what the album needed, but its too little too late.
Mylo Xyloto seems like a midlife crisis for Coldplay; a concept album with art rock gravitas containing the band’s most pop-like music. It’s colourful, melodic and inspirational at best; lacklustre and tedious at worst. A marmite album by a marmite band. But hey, at least Coldplay are sounding partially happy for once.