Coldplay, how far you’ve come. After spending most of their career getting mocked for permanently being uncool, Viva La Vida rewrote large sections of the Coldplay handbook. That album was unabashedly huge, and Martin and Co. injected their (increasingly tired) sound with vibrant new colors and ideas. This resulted in an album that swung a little more pop than usual, but it also sent Coldplay skyward in terms of sales and popularity.
Mylo Xyloto continues that massive, stadium-filling sound. First single “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” opens with an expansive wave of synths, and only rises from there thanks to Jonny Buckland’s quick riff and a strong chorus. Mylo Xyloto‘s opening trio of songs might be the most compelling evidence to see Coldplay live: with scattered synths and guitar lines intertwine over a propulsive rhythym section, the fleet-footed and incredibly tight “Hurts Like Heaven” is a concert opener if I’ve ever heard one. Next song/second single “Paradise” puts a shimmering pop spit shine on the typical Coldplay piano tune, and the result is gorgeous (even if the song doesn’t truly payoff until two minutes in). Closing the trifecta is “Charlie Brown”, which proves that even forced character lyrics can’t keep down an exuberant instrumental track.
Mylo Xyloto‘s opening salvo works so well because it knows what it is: Coldplay working with Brian Eno to make gigantic, overstuffed songs that spread in all directions with dense production and “Whooa-oooh-whooa” crowd moments. According to Christ Martin, Mylo Xyloto is a concept album about lovers in a dystopia, which probably shows most in track order. That’s the only explainable reason for “Us Against the World” splitting the similar sounding “Charlie Brown” and “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”. “Us Against the World” tries its hand at merging Coldplay’s acoustic ballad past with their more textured present, but ends up floundering in the middle, and sounds painfully out of place.
Playing Mylo Xyloto as a concept album isn’t really surprising once you consider that Viva La Vida was basically inadvertently a “high art concept album” itself. It certainly had all the pieces for it: new/epic sound, political and philosophical musings, thematic ties…it only makes sense that Coldplay would follow it up with a literal concept album: repeated lyrics, inconsequential interludes, and an inflated sound.
The huge production that helped some songs hurts others: the interesting guitar work on “Major Minus” is choked in favor of vocals, and the much talked about Rihanna collaboration “Princess of China” drowns a potential hit in its own overproduction. The two true success stories in Mylo Xyloto‘s messy second half are the melancholy but relaxed “Up in Flames” and closer “Up With the Birds”, which sees all of the albums elements (intricate instrumentation, dense production, and an ear for melody) playing nicely.
While Mylo Xyloto is a good album, it has all the elements for a great one. When bands play with electropop and R&B, usually the experiments fail, but here they succeed; it’s only when Coldplay try to make everyone happy that they stumble. Even though it’s supposed to be a concept album, the record doesn’t feel cohesive, and plays more like a few strong singles mixed amid passable to good tunes. On top of that, it’s also fairly top heavy (“Hurts Like Heaven” and “Paradise” will get more love than “U.F.O.” and “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”), and that only adds to Mylo Xyloto‘s inconsistency. Still, though, it’s hard to complain about what’s missing when there’s still a lot there, three out of five stars.
tl;dr: Coldplay do a pop album right, 3/5.