According to Chris Martin, Coldplay’s latest, Mylo Xyloto, is a concept album, following a classic love fable narrative that was inspired by The Wire and The White Rose Movement, a more ‘acoustic’ and ‘intimate’ compilation, meant to scale back Viva La Vida’s grandiose, arena rock presumptions. But don’t expect liner notes full of obtuse historical references or even cohesive storytelling from Coldplay’s fifth studio LP. Instead Mylo Xyloto finds Martin spouting the same pretty babble that he always has, veering between nonsensical and trite over amiable keyboards and Brian Eno-engineered walls of twinkly synth.
And that’s all right. For what they do, Coldplay mostly do it well. It’s populist, inoffensive pop that goes down easy; it doesn’t challenge the listener, but it doesn’t falter or overreach either. Mylo Xyloto has everything we’ve come to expect of Coldplay’s recent releases – the requisite soaring guitar solos, Martin’s high-pitched, keening oohs and ahs, the inevitable glittering cascades of piano keys, the moments when you forget you’re not listening to a U2 record. ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ is an obvious Phoenix clone, but it’s still a good song, with bubbling vocals and spacey techno beats that prove to be an irresistible combination.
First single ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ (inane title aside) is one of the stronger tracks, building to the kind of anthemic, swelling chorus that made Coldplay famous. The ballads ‘U.F.O.’ and ‘Up in Flames’ are standard acoustic numbers, with lyrics about meandering rivers and broken hearts. Both songs suffer from the feeling that the closeness fostered by a simple, echoing drum line and the squeak of guitar strings is forced, a manufactured effect that doesn’t quite translate into warmth.
The album could’ve done without the interludes, ‘M.M.I.X’, ‘A Hopeful Transmission’ and the eponymous intro. Coldplay’s style is consistent enough that they aren’t necessary; we don’t need to be coaxed into believing that the songs belong together. Martin trades verses with Rihanna on ‘Princess of China’, a thudding, fuzzy rocker replete with enviable hooks. The bottom line is if you like Coldplay, you’ll like Mylo Xyloto. The album delivers what it promises – a series of polished, if predictable, pop tunes.