Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Album Review: Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay

Should you buy it? If you like pop music, go for it.

Mylo Xyloto is a difficult album to review. In one sense, it is hard to fault Coldplay's songs, because more than half of them are musically engaging and enjoyable. At the same time, any longtime fan of Coldplay would admit that their sound has changed, and in most respects has approached a more "mainstream" sound. Is this bad? Not necessarily.

Coldplay's older music was mostly mellow; though they had a few real rockers like "Yellow" and "Shiver," it was clear from their albums that they cherished a more melancholy, contemplative sound. With their 2008 album Viva la Vida (produced by Brian Eno, U2 producer), they changed their "classic" style, and chose instead to make almost every song completely different from the last. Mylo Xyloto completes Coldplay's transition to pop music.

The album starts out strong, with possibly the best song on the whole album, "Hurts Like Heaven." As the songs continue through the first half, the problem is not so much with the quality of the music as the lack of variety and drama. The next four songs are all "pretty," but, as good as they are, listening to them in sequence feels a little like eating four donuts in a row. Sure it's good, but after a while we want some fresh, real food.

In the second half, things get more interesting. Major Minus is a 007-style song, produced and intense, and it saves the album from being a big blob of musical cotton candy. Next, we get a more stripped down sound in "U.F.O.," which is the most beautiful mellow track. For one glorious moment, Coldplay starts sounding like their best moments from the past.

Then it all goes up in flames.

Coldplay and Rihanna sing together on "Princess of China," by far the definitive pop song on the album. The old Coldplay is entirely absent from this song, yet for what it is, it can be appreciated. The last few tracks of the album provide a hodgepodge of ballad, raucous finale, and an attempted experimental outro. None of these are unlistenable, but then none of them, except "Up With The Birds" are standouts.

The problem with Mylo Xyloto is not that it's an alternative band's transition to a pop album. The problem is that their music, with a few exceptions, is less adventurous. The same can be said for their lyrics. This is a concept album, but I would only call it that in the loosest sense of the term. In reality, the concept is painted with such broad strokes that it practically disappears. Most of singer Chris Martin's lyrics are sometimes so vague that they don't really matter except as a vehicle for the melody. When I think back on cryptic yet fascinating songs like Clocks and Politik, it saddens me to see Chris reduced to writing such two-dimensional lyrics. If a concept album is about two lovers, than the characters themselves better be interesting, or else it just sounds silly.

That being said, this album still gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. The songs are entertaining, with such a beautiful and lush sound, that it is highly re-listenable. It's nevertheless a slight disappointment, because Coldplay has set the bar so high from their earlier music that it seems like they weren't putting their heart and soul into this album.

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