Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto - Review

The first time I ever bought a Coldplay record, it was a single called 'Brothers And Sisters' released on the Fierce Panda label, and purchased from the much-missed Replay Records in Bath. Around about the same time I also purchased singles from other up-and-coming indie bands such as Astronaut, the High Fidelity, Astrid, Mainstream and Six By Seven. At the time all of these bands shared the same level of success and any one of them could have turned out to be the next big thing. I always thought it would have been the wonderful Astrid who were to make it big, but after all the other aforementioned bands lasted a couple of years with little success before splitting, it turned out to be Coldplay who broke through. When they captured the public's attention with their 2000 debut 'Parachutes' it was clear that they were going to go onto even bigger things but I had no idea of how massive they would eventually become. 

Fast forward about a decade and fourth album 'Viva La Vida' becomes the biggest selling album download of all time, and not only did its triumphant title track score them a number one hit single but was also beamed into space via satellite during a NASA mission, momentarily confirming them as not only the world's biggest band but also effectively the biggest group in the universe as well. So where do they go next as they release their fifth album 'Mylo Xyloto'?

Pleasingly it turns out to be their most lively, bright and celebratory work to date. It takes the band's major strengths and finds new ways of presenting them, and does a great job of compacting more experimental influences into memorable and accessible pop songs. The various ambient  interludes that add some breathing space to the album all have collaborator Brian Eno's mark stamped all over them and they seem to link the songs up very effectively. 'Hurts Like Heaven' sees Coldplay at their most wildly vibrant as the album opens with a multicoloured burst of energy. A lively beat and a sprinting electronic synth pattern light up a track that hints that this record could very well be their defining moment. There's even a brief bit of vocoder action, which comes as a most pleasant surprise. Sadly the albums second single 'Paradise' doesn't continue this excitement, instead it drags out a tame ballad which no matter how many times you hear it reeks of Coldplay-by-numbers. The chorus is the weakest Chris Martin has ever committed to record and at times it sounds worryingly like the work of Phil Collins. It is however a very catchy tune and annoyingly so.

Thankfully 'Charlie Brown' spins the album back into a joyous state of vitality with its bright and unforgettable guitar hook, huge walls of backing vocals, a pounding beat recalling 'Viva La Vida''s massive title track and a charming sense of oriental-style grace. 'Us Against The World' triumphs in a different way, a lovely minimal waltz-timed strum that drifts into a most humble and beautiful acoustic lullaby. When drummer Will Champion joins in on vocals for the second verse, it's pure magic. It's probably the sweetest and most heartfelt moment on 'Xylo Myloto' and  proves that Coldplay are amazing at these subtle little moments, and although the arrangement is wonderfully toned down, the emotions are still free to speak major volumes. 'Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall' has a thumping pulse beat, a playful U2-esque guitar part and stunning musical fireworks that bring to mind vintage acid house. It perfectly bridges the gap between stadium rock anthemics and dancefloor euphoria, with its ecstatic acid house synth hook and Martin's Bono-esque hollering towards the end.

'Major Minus' is a darker beast, driven by funky percussion, confrontational beats, a prominent "ooh ooh ooh" vocal hook and an insistent bassline which punches through the song in a pleasingly aggressive way. The guitars sound great too, ringing out with an urgent precision which hasn't been present in Johnny Buckland's playing up until now. It almost sounds like the result of The Edge joining Radiohead. 'UFO' is a tender and nicely understated acoustic number that I can tell you (from experience) sounds absolutely stunning at half 5 in the morning accompanied by birdsong, and in places recalls the majestic qualities of Nick Drake. 

Then there's the big surprise, the Rihanna-featuring 'Princess Of China'... When I first became aware of this collaboration I thought "is this what it's come to now? Do we really live in an age where even one of the world's biggest bands have to rope in a mainstream R&B vocalist just to guarantee themselves some airplay? Surprisingly Rihanna's contribution proves to be most refreshing and adds a pleasing contrast to Martin's yearning croon. Chunky beats and fizzled static-sounding synth noises power a catchy and wonderfully written pop song which although different from the rest of the album, seems to fit in perfectly. A surprise success and very probably an inevitable massive hit single.

Unfortunately the record is weighed down again by 'Up In Flames', another drippy ballad where Coldplay sound uninspired and like they're trying to keep the coffee table crowd interested. Like 'Paradise' it suffers from another weak and irritatingly repetitive chorus and some slightly lazy lyrics, but also like 'Paradise' is may be a substandard song but it sure will stick in your head after you've heard it a few times. 'Don't Let It Break Your Heart' is melodically a more uptempo and pumped-up relative of 'Fix You', complete with more of those ringing guitar licks but perhaps overdoing it with the "woah oh oh"'s, as they do elsewhere n this record. After a familiar conversational vocal signals the arrival of 'Up With The Birds' it soon turns into something vast and heavenly, as if it were being beamed down from the clouds by a swarm of angels. But it doesn't end there, the melody soon launches into a completely different bright state of redemption, and a chorus that rings out with hope and light before ending with some majestically toned down piano, providing a nice and ever so slightly unexpected close to the album.

For the majority of this album it's bright, full of positivity and splashed with wonderful bursts of colour, proving that Coldplay are far from the boring balladeers many cynics accuse them of being. Even when it's at its worst it's certainly never unpleasant, and even the two weakest tracks are proper earworms that have annoyingly catchy qualities. Brian Eno has definitely helped bring out the best in this band, as their greatest strengths are applied to the music in a fresh and effective way. OK, it's hardly a groundbreaking album but it does set a nice balance between trying out new things and feeling comfortable with the best aspects of their sound. There's people that love Coldplay and there's people whose tastes are offended by their very existence, but this album makes it clear that this band aren't about to fade away anytime soon. Like it or not they will be top of their tree for a long time to come. 7.5

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