Review: “Mylo Xyloto”

Oct. 28, 2011, 12:58 a.m.
Review: "Mylo Xyloto"
Courtesy of MCT

No band in the world transforms quite as much as Coldplay.

The British group have reimagined themselves five times now, the latest product of which is their newest album, “Mylo Xyloto.” Yes, “Mylo Xyloto.” It means nothing, which everyone should supposedly find compelling. Lead singer Chris Martin gave some inane explanation about xylophone toes as the inspiration for “Mylo Xyloto” (which, by the way, is pronounced XY-luh-toe), which Martin described to as a concept album about “a kind of romance in an oppressive environment. It’s sort of a love story.”

The cover of the album might be more telling. The chosen image is a swirl of hallucinogenic-looking graffiti. It’s chaotic and a far cry from the Delacroix painting chosen for Coldplay’s last album, “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends.” It’s, in a word, mystifying.

In fact, “Mylo” moves in the opposite direction of “Viva La Vida” in many ways. Where the latter was grand, bombastic, political and a little bit pompous, “Mylo” is modern, quieter, romantic and a little bit utopian. Unfortunately, the end result is a somewhat disjointed collection of songs–there’s a common theme, yes, but it’s approached from north, south, east and west. Fortunately, “Mylo” still sounds good.

It seems Coldplay albums have become a bit of a guessing game–can we still find snippets of what the band used to sound like? The answer is a relieved yes; “Paradise,” for instance, is by far the best song on “Mylo,” mainly because you can still discern natural instruments in the background. Of course, you also hear a piano-driven melody and Martin’s adolescent-sounding falsetto–but that is, after all, what made Coldplay so popular in the first place. There’s no need to fix what hasn’t yet broken after 15 years.

“Mylo” is often simple and contemplative, a side of Coldplay that hasn’t been seen in a while but has brought some of their greatest successes (think “The Scientist”). Both “U.F.O.” and “Us Against the World” are more deconstructed Coldplay songs featuring a gentle guitar strum, the rare tenor version of Chris Martin’s voice and idyllic lyrics that articulate the heart of the album (“Through chaos as it swirls/It’s us against the world”).

Coldplay borders on cliché in their metaphors in “Mylo,” but more often than not, the songs are too over-produced to notice, and in the right places, they’re spot-on. The lyrics of “Princess of China,” for instance, would not be out of place on a Taylor Swift album, but Martin and Rihanna’s voices, along with some strong Eastern influences–a combo that shouldn’t work but does anyway–make for a listenable song. Nonetheless, Coldplay very rarely collaborates, and though Rihanna thankfully fits the song style, such a big name duet seems a little “chartistic” instead of artistic.

The most telling, though, are the interludes. The first, “Mylo Xyloto,” seems a quick transition from the pomp of “Viva La Vida”; “M.M.I.X.”–again, no one knows what it means–is a slow build of literally two chords (uncertainty in the romance?); “A Hopeful Transmission” sounds like an incarnation of triumph. In all, the original concept is portrayed with just the right precision in just two minutes of playtime; if only the songs followed suit, “Mylo” might be perfect.

As its albums are released, Coldplay seems to wander more little by little, and by take five, Coldplay is split in half–a part of the group has returned to square one, while the other half is relishing the over-produced sounds that began to develop by the “X&Y” era. Fortunately, they’re Coldplay, and for that reason, it eventually makes sense.

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