Has there ever been another superstar band that so transparently longed to be cool? That wants so badly to be the theme music to the Occupy Wall Street protests instead of the house band at the Gap?
Every Coldplay album seems a battle for its soul, between the stirring, philosophical, electronic band its members want it to be and the stodgy, sappy, British band it is. More than anything Coldplay has done, “Mylo Xyloto” exemplifies that push-pull.
Pronounced “my-lo zy-le-toe” (if your album title needs a pronunciation key, you’re almost always in trouble), the new album is sometimes dull but is mostly just fine. Coldplay cribs from its betters (“Unforgettable Fire”-era U2, Radiohead) and its not-necessarily-betters (present-day U2 and the Arcade Fire), but mostly stays the same.
The formula hasn’t changed: mid-tempo ballads with hooks, the occasional uplifting stadium anthem. Only the trappings are different: “Mylo” goes heavy on electronic flourishes, instrumental interludes and various art-rock fripperies. It’s the sound of Coldplay, which got famous singing woozy acoustic ballads and is now stuck with them, edging as close to “O.K. Computer”-land as it dares to get.
The band’s last release, the frankly great “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends,” was co-produced by Brian Eno (he helps out in a lesser capacity on this one) and got the balance just right. The clumsier “Mylo” is a concept album about young lovers (“Mylo” and “Xyloto”) in revolt against an uncaring establishment, a frequent-enough musical topic that a concept album hardly seemed necessary. That Coldplay, the multiplatinum apple of EMI Group’s eye, is the establishment seems to have escaped everyone involved.
But get past the concept, which Martin and Co. don’t overwork anyway, and “Mylo” has beautiful, comforting songs, with guitars that chime, vocals like liquid misery and skyscraper hooks. First single “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” which initially seemed a cobbling-together of every one of the band’s cliches, sounds better here as part of
the concept album. The epic, orchestral “Paradise” may be the band’s next iconic song. The unusually brisk “Hurts Like Heaven” is their homage to the Cure by way of Passion Pit.
“Mylo” gets less fussy in its last third, a repository of cigarette-lighter ballads such as “Up With the Birds,” which is reminiscent of a 1940s Disney movie theme, and vintage mid-tempo anthems like “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart.” Only the Eurobanger “Princess of China” feels wrong. A collaboration with Rihanna, presumably selected at random from some Famous People Who Are Cooler Than Us catalogue, it’s an awkward marriage between the flinty fembot and the men who love too much. On another record it would still be terrible, but a different context might have improved it. On this one, it never stood a chance.
Recommended Tracks: “Paradise,” “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”