On their fifth album, Coldplay
don’t break much new ground, instead happy to further explore the sonic terrain that has made them one of the world’s most popular (if not exactly the hippest) groups. As a consequence, Mylo Xyloto
will probably confirm whatever feeling you already have about this British modern rock outfit: You either embrace their Radiohead
-lite mainstream accessibility or you dismiss them as lightweight faux-alternative rockers. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable collection, albeit one that has its share of dull patches.
Successful or Too Safe?
When Coldplay emerged in 2000 with Parachutes
, they immediately established themselves as romantic, melodic hitmakers blessed with a frontman (Chris Martin) who had a beautiful, ethereal singing style. In fact, at first his voice seemed reminiscent of Dave Matthews
’, which ultimately proved rather telling since both groups have gone on to attract large, loyal fan bases that translate to strong record sales and industry accolades. (Coldplay have won seven Grammys.) But for Coldplay, that mainstream success also provoked a heavy backlash, with critics attacking their pretentious, sweeping style and overly polished, tame songs. For many, Coldplay’s popularity is a knock against them, proof that their inoffensive, bombastically grand music lacks the danger and edginess of true alternative rock. But Mylo Xyloto
doesn’t seek to prove the band’s haters wrong. If anything, the quartet dive deeper into their music’s arena-ready, atmospheric bent.
Savoring the Sonic Splendor
The new album consists of 11 full-length songs and three short interludes, and as usual the focus is on comforting mid-tempo numbers about love and perseverance. The darker textures present occasionally on A Rush of Blood to the Head
or Viva la Vida
are largely absent on Mylo Xyloto
, which might be the group’s most sonically luxurious. With this album, even on a potentially despondent song like “Paradise” -- about a woman who can only escape the misery of her life through dreams -- the tone is rousing and the music gorgeous. Coldplay fine-tune their music so it shines like a diamond, and that insistence on producing nothing but sparkling gems can rob their material of heft and gravitas. But when Mylo Xyloto
is really working, the sheer sonic splendor of the tunes is undeniable, the hooks utterly effortless and instantly engaging.
Proud to Be Saps
Because Coldplay long for the soaring majesty of U2
’s best moments and the intricate design of Radiohead’s sharpest songs, their music can be plagued by a self-conscious grandeur that’s off-putting. (Rather than being effortlessly inspirational and majestic, they huff and puff to achieve the same effect.) As a result, Mylo Xyloto
’s weaker songs seem to vanish into thin air, faint wisps of melody that have no anchor to them. But when Martin sinks his teeth into a thick slice of romantic melodrama, he knows how to make it resonate. Despite a small similarity to “Fix You” off X&Y
, “Up in Flames” is an unabashedly lovely keyboards-and-drums track that’s rich with heartsick melancholy. Though a little less powerful, “Us Against the World” is another sturdy love ditty, utilizing shimmering acoustic guitars and Martin’s pretty voice for an enticing ode to finding what really matters during tough times. Without question, these guys write sappy songs about feel-good themes, and it’s up to the listener to decide if that’s necessarily such a terrible thing.
Take a Risk
This isn’t to say that Mylo Xyloto
is entirely risk-free. One of its most adventurous tracks is also one of its best: “Princess of China” finds the band teaming up with Rihanna
for a dazzling, keyboard-driven tune that feels vaguely sci-fi. But it’s one of the very few times on Mylo Xyloto
where you’ll catch Coldplay truly being bold. After more than a decade together, Coldplay are beloved industry veterans who are incredibly capable of producing music their fans will love. But too often, Mylo Xyloto
’s “sophisticated” sheen starts to feel like a well-worn gimmick for the band. Coldplay have their sound down to a science. Unfortunately, surprises seem to be left out of the equation.
'Mylo Xyloto' - Best Tracks:
“Princess of China” (Purchase/Download
“Up in Flames” (Purchase/Download
“Us Against the World” (Purchase/Download
“Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” (Purchase/Download
Release date – October 25, 2011
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.