Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Album Review: Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
So, here we are again - a new Coldplay album. One of my favourite bands of all time; the band are back with a fifth effort, and this time they've gone for a heavy electronic influence, but keeping the experimental vibes from last record "Viva La Vida...". You'd never believe this was the same band that wrote the album "Parachutes", all the way back at the turn of the century. However, one thing that has remained constant throughout the band's career is their knack for writing massive stadium anthems; even some of their quieter and softer songs can make crowds go wild. There's at least one on every one of their albums. But this one is stuffed full of them - and it's absolutely huge.
Take opener Hurts Like Heaven (not counting the 40-second intro Mylo Xyloto as a separate track), with its incredible pace and epic guitar riffs. This is perhaps the greatest way anyone's ever opened an album. It's an adrenaline rush that never lets up; and you can clearly hear the guitars making their mark all over the track, although Chris Martin's voice is ruined ever so slightly by a kind of robotic vocal in the background, but the song is not ruined overall. Also up there for sheer euphoria is Charlie Brown - it sent chills down my spine when I first heard it at Glastonbury, and the studio version is no less epic. The guitar riff is perhaps the greatest one they have ever done; so much that it pretty much does the job of having a chorus on the song - there's no real refrain here, but that doesn't matter. As the riff slowly comes in, slowly getting louder, over the synth-y opening, you think you're in for a smoother ride... and then everything smashes its way in. Absolutely huge. And if that wasn't enough, it finishes with a piano part at the end which is beautifully done.
There are instrumental interludes on this album, mainly placed before a massive track, such as Mylo Xyloto / Hurts Like Heaven. Also, we have M.M.I.X. preceding Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, the first song to be heard in studio version from this album, all the way back in June. It was a great song back then, and it sounds slightly better still in the context of the album, even if it does have a hint of cheesiness about it. The third interlude is A Hopeful Transmission, which takes its cues from the intro track, Mylo Xyloto. It's also a brilliant way to lead into Don't Let It Break Your Heart. Now, there's an anthem if I ever heard one. Straight after A Hopeful Transmission finishes, a wall of sound just crashes around your ears... on first listen, it sounds like it's drowning out the vocals, but on repeated listens you get used to it - it's undoubtedly a bombastic, massive song built for stadiums, but it's perhaps the biggest surprise on the album, particuarly if (like me) you'd heard the majority of the songs live. A stunning penultimate track.
Elsewhere in the department of big stadium anthems, we have a couple of R&B- influenced tracks, the second single Paradise, which, like Every Teardrop..., was brilliant on its own and yet still manages to feel better yet in its placing on the album. The rather uninventive chorus of 'para-para-paradise" is overshadowed by the huge strings sound that covers the song, but it's still catchy and will get into your head. The other song is Princess Of China, which goes the whole way and brings in Rihanna to sing along. Now as soon as I heard this, I was incredibly sceptical, but actually, after two or three listens, it's actually done pretty well, despite the fact that it doesn't sound like Coldplay are actually in band mode - it seems like a Chris Martin solo song. The synths replace Jonny Buckland's guitar, but it's alright because the melodies they create are magnificent. The bass is also turned up to eleven - it may blow out your speakers. You have been warned. Anyway, Rihanna fits in fine, especially since she sounds different (at least from the two or three songs of hers that I know). After several plays, it's one of my favourites from the album, although I would have liked to hear more guitar and a bit more Chris Martin vocals - he seems to take the first verse on his own and then retreats into the background, occasionally popping up to accompany Rihanna. But by no means is it a disappointment.
My two least favourite tracks on this album are Major Minus and UFO, but they're still great tracks in themselves. Luckily they're some of the shortest on the album (bar the interludes). The former was debuted on the Every Teardrop... EP back in June, and I considered it to be good but thought it would stay as a B-side. In terms of the story I think this album is trying to tell, it's a necessary track, but it doesn't quite resonate with me as much as the other tracks. The latter is reminiscent of the band's earlier work, as it's very acoustic based. There are some strings accompanying it but they're very much in the background. The song only lasts two minutes and a bit, and even manages to fit in some kind of intro for Princess Of China for the last 15 seconds. It's not a particularly memorable song, but may become more of a hit for the fans that have wished for Coldplay to return back to their original sound. But, for me, it's the weakest song on the album.
The remaining three yet to be mentioned are all the slower, more delicate moments taken from the album - and oddly, they all begin with the letter U - add U.F.O. to the list and you have pretty much got all the quieter moments. My favourite of these is Us Against The World, which is for the most part acoustic, although it has a sunny introduction that's a joy to listen to. Drummer Will Champion also takes backing vocals on the song, moving away from his drums to accompany Martin. Towards the end, a massive organ/piano/I'm not really sure which... comes in and gives you goosebumps with the sheer amount of power it has, before stripping everything away to leave Martin and his acoustic to lead the song out. It's a good breather coming between Charlie Brown and M.M.I.X. / Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, two of the most anthemic songs on there. The other "U songs" are Up In Flames - which is very minimal and restrained but takes its power from that, and features Martin's highest vocal on the album ("up in flaaaaaaames") and again the chorus is based on repetition, but it's fantastic nonetheless; and closing track Up With The Birds, which is a song in two halves. The first half wouldn't be out of place in a closing scene from a romantic film, and it features some odd electronic sighing sound that's a bit out of place, but also some huge cinematic strings to lead you into the second half, which is where the guitars and drums turn up - it sounds like it's going to lead into a big Coldplay chorus, but it builds up just enough to keep you interested and then ends a bit earlier than expected - it's a bit of an anticlimax to be honest, particularly after the previous four tracks (Princess Of China onwards), but it leaves the album on a positive vibe as the final note is played on the piano.
This is a massive album and undoubtedly their poppiest one yet, but the amount of goosebump-inducing moments are numerous. They retain the experimental feeling of their previous album and continue to make their new sound seem fresh and original. Every song feels different to the others, as was the case with Viva La Vida. Back then, I gave that album 5 stars but that was when I was incredibly generous to rating albums (I'd give it 4.5 stars now). On this album, there's something a bit lacking from a couple of songs, and I don't think it fully deserves the full five stars unfortunately. But it's still one of the best things to come out this year, and my favourite Coldplay album.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Hurts Like Heaven, Charlie Brown, Don't Let It Break Your Heart
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACKS: Major Minus, U.F.O.
PREVIOUS ALBUMS (as I would rate them now): Parachutes (3.5/5) / A Rush of Blood To The Head (4/5) / X&Y (4/5) / Viva La Vida (4.5/5)