Album Review: Coldplay, “Mylo Xyloto” (2011)

I don’t even remember when I first became a Coldplay fan; perhaps it was the first time I saw the beautiful music video for “Yellow”, or maybe it was when I couldn’t get the bridge of “The Scientist” out of my head.  Either way, they’ve been one of my favorite bands for years, and I own all of their albums.  It was a no-brainer for me to pick up their fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto when it was released in 2011.

Lead singer, Chris Martin, and the band (guitarist, Jonny Buckland, bassist, Guy Berryman, and drummer, Will Champion) have honed their sound in the years since their debut album- gone are the acoustic guitar and piano they were once known for, only to be replaced by a more electronic sound.  We were first introduced to this musical change with their fourth album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, and the same musical vein continues here, though the sound is a bit edgier and more polished.  When I first bought the CD, I played it non-stop and even proclaimed it as my favorite release of 2011.  The thrill of it has worn off a bit since then, but I’ll still go on record by saying that it’s a great effort.

The sounds of bells chiming and light synthesizer play as an intro during the title track, before kicking off into the first song on the disc, Hurts Like Heaven.  Martin has said that the album is a concept album- about a fictional war against sound and colour by an oppressive government (Mylo and Xyloto are names of fictional characters in the story), but none of this is made very clear on the album.  The only thing I can say that even remotely hints to this being a “concept” album is the ebb and flow of the music; the album starts off extremely upbeat and happy, and then sort of dwindles down quietly by the end (but more on that later).  Anyway, this first track is appropriately lively and fun- electric guitars roar during the choruses, and Martin sounds jubilant as he sings throughout.  I love the lyrics in the chorus (“But you wear your heart like a weapon/And it hurts like heaven”), and though this song isn’t quite as exciting as some of Coldplay’s other hit singles, it’s still a good one.

Coldplay performs for Nissan Live Sets 2

I loved Paradise from the moment I heard it.  If there was an award for the most upbeat, cheerful song, I think this track might win.  It starts unassumingly, with a few light strings, before segueing into a burst of louder strings, synthesizers, heavy bass and harmonizing from Martin.  The lyrics beautifully paint a story (“When she was just a girl/She expected the world/But it flew away from her reach so/She ran away in her sleep/And dreamed of …paradise/Every time she closed her eyes”) and the refrain of “para-para-paradise” in the chorus is undeniably catchy.  After a few minutes of the cheerful anthem-like song, it fades into quite piano, making for an absolutely gorgeous track from start to finish.

“I turn the music up, I got my records on, I shut the world outside until the lights come on”, sings Martin on the opening lines of Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.  This song could be an update to “Viva la Vida”- musically, the songs have the same sort of electronic/electric-guitar heavy sound.  The bouncy synths and toe-tapping beat of the chorus make the track a memorable one, and Martin’s soaring vocals give off an incredibly exciting energy.  The track is another one that I instantly loved- again, I couldn’t help chanting along with the chorus (“Every siren is a symphony/And every tear’s a waterfall…/Every tear, every tear, every teardrop is a waterfall”).

Us Against The World is a mellower song, but still one of my favorites. The subdued ballad would perhaps be a bit boring, were it not for Martin’s earnest vocal delivery; his voice sounds smooth and inviting in the verses.  The quiet acoustic guitar is like a throwback to some of Coldplay’s older works, and the sweet, melancholy lyrics (“Through chaos as it swirls/It’s us against the world ”) do seem like they come from Coldplay circa 2001.  Major Minus is another traditional-sounding track, mostly composed of guitar and drums.  The style and lyrics definitely remind me of some of the tracks on A Rush of Blood to the Head.  That’s certainly not a bad thing, though- after some of the flashier tracks on the album, it’s nice to see Coldplay return to their musical roots.

Coldplay isn’t known for doing duets, especially not with R&B artists, so I was completely shocked to hear that there would be a collaboration with Rihanna on this album.  My shock quickly transferred to utter and complete disgust after hearing Princess of China, which is, simply put: my least favorite Coldplay song in the history of all Coldplay songs.  No, I’m not going to say the band sold out (like the legions of hipster fans on Last.fm and Tumblr did) and I don’t hate Rihanna (though I don’t particularly care for her music either)…but this song is just crap.  The “singing” that Rihanna does during the background sounds like a siren wailing, and not in creative, arty way- it just sounds like she can’t sing.  Worse yet, is the chorus when she and Martin sing together…their voices just clash, and the cheesy backing synthesizers and electronic music do nothing to make it sound any better.  The lyrics are also atrocious (“I could have been a princess, you’d be a king/Could have had a castle and worn a ring/But no o-o-o-oh you let me go o-o-o-oh-oh”) and the whole song is just one messy, trainwreck. I’ve never deliberately listened to this song, and in fact, skip it each time I listen to the album.

Thankfully, the album isn’t over yet and there are still a few tracks that help me forget the song-that-must-not-be-named.  One such track is the heartbreakingly beautiful ballad, Up In Flames.  The melody is simplistic- composed of a seductive drum loop and some piano- but this allows more emphasis on Martin’s heart wrenching vocals, as he sings of a relationship coming to an end. There’s some killer electric guitar work towards the end of the track, which just taunts me really, because it sounds so much like something John Mayer would’ve done and it just makes me wish they’d have chosen him as a collaborator on the album instead. Can’t have it all, I guess.

The disc comes to a close with a dreary ballad, Up With The Birds.  It took a long time for this song to grow on me, mostly because the lethargic piano that plays throughout the first half of the track always bores me.  However, the second part of the song picks up, adding in more instrumentation and a faster beat, before fading back into the same sound we heard in the introduction. Having three movements in a four minute song is a bit odd- the whole thing seems rushed- however, it works well overall and ends the album on a somewhat hopeful note, which I think was an intentional ending for the concept album (which, again, never really feels like much of a concept album, but I digress.)

Coldplay
has been in the music business for over twelve years now, so it wouldn’t really be surprising if they had run out of new ideas at this point in their career.  But the brilliant thing is that they haven’t- they’ve found new ways to stay relevant and reinvent their sound, and Mylo Xyloto is proof of that.  The album is nearly flawless (*ahem* had they had left a certain duet out, it would’ve been flawless, but again, I digress) and is another stellar entry in Coldplay’s discography.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track List
1. Mylo Xyloto (intro)
2. Hurts Like Heaven
3. Paradise
4. Charlie Brown
5. Us Against The World
6. M.M.I.X. (interlude)
7. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall
8. Major Minus
9. U.F.O.
10. Princess Of China
11. Up In Flames
12. A Hopeful Transmission (interlude)
13. Don’t Let It Break Your Heart
14. Up With The Birds

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G4isv_Fylg]
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