Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay – album review

Several years ago, an ambitious Amazon reviewer published a ten-step checklist, a sort of “indie music for dummies” guide to albums you should own and listen to in precise order to achieve total hipsterdom.  I think Neutral Milk Hotel and Explosions in the Sky were at Stage 10: Indie Nirvana (or something like that). But guess which band was step one — the perfect gateway drug for pop music fans to start a nasty indie rock habit? Yep, Coldplay.

Indeed, after their excellent, tastefully modest debut Parachutes and multi-platinum follow-up A Rush of Blood to the Head (an apt metaphor for that album’s augmentation of everything), Coldplay had the best of both worlds — gobs of street cred for their guitar-focused, almost-indie sound and Chris Martin’s ability to craft melodies that had massive crossover pop appeal.  By 2002, U2 and Radiohead were either incapable of or unwilling to write hit ballads like “The Scientist” and stadium anthems like “Clocks,” but Coldplay did, gladly graduating from the little band that could to World’s Biggest Rock Band. Just days before A Rush of Blood to the Head was released, I saw Coldplay perform at the 850-person occupancy Paradise Rock Club in Boston for $12, and by the clamorous climax of opener “Politik,” you could see that a spastic, headbanging Chris Martin was not only coming out of his shell and from behind his piano — he was a budding superstar waiting to be born.

But its nearly impossible for musicians to remain in such a enviable position for very long — being both hip, cultural taste makers and the guys who wrote that “Viva La Vida” song that even your mom knows. In the decade since, Coldplay has tried desperately to play both sides of the field, striving for bigger and better pop hits while riding the coattails of indie rock’s surging popularity.  It turns out you have to choose one way or the other, and even deciding not to choose is a choice. On their fifth album, oddly-conceived Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay have settled into the worst of both worlds, a lazy sort of nether region where their recycled, neutered rock riffs have grown annoyingly predictable and their glossy, pop inclinations have turned awkward and, worst of all, bland.

The album’s first half is full of arena rockers, with catchy but polished-till-it-bleeds “Hurts Like Heaven,” pop-friendly “Paradise,” “Charlie Brown” and monster first single “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.”  Martin relies on his high, unmistakable tenor to convey his emotions to the masses, which is fine since storytelling has never been his strong point (“Our lyrics are a bit shit” he recently admitted to NME). But on Mylo Xyloto, the banality goes too far; more than half the songs have choruses of ”oh ohh ohhhhs” or “ah ahh ahhhhs” which, coupled with sawed down melodic edges, pitch perfect synths, and club beats makes Coldplay sound precariously close to a boy band. I don’t know if I will never be able to listen to “Paradise” without thinking of NKOTB’s “Hanging Tough” — a chorus of Chris Martins, all well-groomed and outlandishly dressed (What the hell is with that clownish Sgt Peppers’ jacket? It has to go) dancing in my head.

Opening with “I turn the music up, I got my records on,” “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” is a fist-pumping rocker exhorting the pleasures of listening to… well, fist pumping rockers — a song that’s basically about itself. And that’s cool, I get that Coldplay is having a bit of mindless fun. Pop and hip-hop stars do this sort of self-referential thing all the time, with dance songs about dancing and rap songs about how good of a rapper you are. But for a rock band with the platform and chops of Coldplay, this sort of lyrical shallowness feels more than a little disingenuous.

As far as triteness goes, analogies don’t get much worse than “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.” Why not a question mark while you’re at it, Chris… as in what the fuck were you thinking when you wrote that?  I can imagine a few more insightful and provocative things for a lead singer to compare himself to than punctuation. And does anyone know what “every tear drop is a waterfall” actually means? Is Martin feeling indescribably sad about his record collection or angling for a spot in a Visine commercial? Sure, he could have chosen a worse bodily fluid to reference (Oasis manager Alan McGee did famously call Coldplay songs “bedwetter’s music”), but these lyrics mean almost nothing, which is a shame given that millions will be shouting them over the album’s greatest hook.

The record’s second half is just as clean-sounding and loud; unfortunately, the songs aren’t as good. There’s nothing really wrong with softly-strummed ballad “U.F.O.” or off-kilter rocker “Major Minor” — they simply sound like Martin doing obligatory remakes of “Green Eyes” and “A Whisper” with less memorable melodies and glossier production. The Rhianna duet “Princess of China” is the real surprise here, and definitely not in a good way. Paired up with the R&B goddess’s sexy cyborg growls and the clubland synths, Martin sounds so inexplicably out of place that it’s almost unbearable. What’s even more disturbing is that Martin has called the song is his “favourite bit” of Mylo Xyloto. To get through the track for this review, I had to practically strap myself down, Lon Chaney-style — it’s one for which skip buttons were made.

Coldplay has always had populist leanings, but on Mylo Xyloto they’ve significantly lowered the age limit to entry, for better or worse. It’s draped in radio-friendly effects, features that Rihanna track, and has lots of lyrics about youth gone wild. When Martin shouts: “All the kids they dance/ All the kids, all night” and “All the boys/ All the girls/ All the madness that occurs/ We’ll run riot/ We’ll be glowing in the dark,” I can practically picture thousands of teenagers at Wembley, singing along with raised cell phones and crying “Ooooooh, cool! We really are glowing in the dark!” But if the kids of the world are truly looking to riot in 2011, they may want to consider the Arab Spring, Greek protests, or Occupy Wall Street movement before settling on a Coldplay concert.

And, yeah, The Joshua Tree must be on heavy rotation in the studio because the Coldplay-sounding-like-U2 thing isn’t getting any subtler. Guitarist Jonny Buckland rips the Edge off not once but twice in “Major Minor” (see both “In God’s Country” and “Bullet the Blue Sky”), and “Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall” is basically “Where the Streets Have No Name” without Bono’s religious fervor. The song highlights what’s so maddeningly frustrating about Coldplay — they can follow up one of their worst moments (Martin unbearably yelping “it was a wa ahh ahhh ahhhh aterfall!!!!) with one of their best (the thunderous bass line that, while stolen right from the play book of U2’s Adam Clayton, is still satisfyingly climactic.) It’s like they’re trying to convince you that their shit sandwich tastes good by sprucing it up with a splash of hot sauce. It’s hard to enjoy listening to this and feel good about yourself afterwards.

Even for indie music fans like myself who admittedly have a soft spot for rock bands that can write a catchy hook, watching Coldplay descend this deeply into a vapid pop abyss is painful.  So after one last spin of Mylo Xyloto I’ve decided to quit Coldplay, the so-called gateway drug to indie rock, because these four London lads chose to lead me down a completely different slippery slope (i.e. the American Idol route) than the one I expected. I’m sorry Coldplay, but those auto-tuned guitars and sugary keyboards are giving me such a hangover that, withdrawal be damned, I’m putting you down. It’s over. Cold turkey. Full stop.

“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” – Coldplay – mp3

Buy Mylo Xyloto on Amazon.

20 comments on “Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay – album review

  1. Antonio
    October 25, 2011

    respect your personal opinion… but it’s all resentment bullshit

  2. James Murphy (@jmurphyuk)
    October 25, 2011

    I agree with the person above. This smacks of the same old vitreolic hatred I hear day-in-day out about Coldplay (sorry a-hem ‘Chris Martin’). Very very much sounding like a resentment of a band that are mainstream and successful. On every single album Coldplay have written you can name at least a handful of ‘anthems’ each album being a progression from the last. Having seen and witnessed Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers etc. etc. I can say without fear that Coldplay provided the greatest entertainment and atmosphere of the lot.

    I find it ironic that the only album review in your recent posts scoring near 50 was Coldplay’s new album. All others scoring 65 or above. Again this tends to point towards a hatred of Coldplay rather than an unbiased opinion on Mylo Xyloto. I note how there was no mention of ‘Charlie Brown’ easily the best single on the album and quite possibly (in my eyes at least) their best song to date.

    I myself was slightly disappointed with the second half of the album, the first half however was excellent with one song flowing nicely into the next. There are bands these days who successfully make a transition from old style to new and in my eyes Coldplay are one of those such bands.

    Noone has levelled criticism towards Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters for not changing their style one-iota since their first album. Yet Coldplay have received much criticism for attempting to experiment just a little. Radiohead also have failed to reach the heady heights of their The Bends / OK Computer days.

    As for lyrics not making sense and not having meaning. Who cares…. Most music written these days is non-sensical and matters little to anyone. For me it’s the music and lyrics working together that matter more and that’s what on the whole works for Mylo Xyloto.

    75/100 at least but 51/100. I think not.

    • jeffort23
      October 25, 2011

      Actually out of the bands you mention, I think Coldplay is still the most relevant. Oasis hasn’t made a meaningful album in over a decade and RHCP has become a parody of itself. I ran out of time to review I’m With You, but it would have been lower than 50.

      I don’t “hate” Coldplay (really!), and I’m sorry if that’s the impression I’m giving. I’m certainly all for bands experimenting with new sounds. But I am incredibly disappointed that they chose to go this particular pop-centric route. It’s akin to discovering that your favorite serious author has written a beach book — nothing wrong beach books per se, it’s just that they’re a lot easier to create and tend not to stand the test of time. Coldplay have shown they have the skill to create weighty, more thoughtful songs that appeal to the mind and the heart. Here, they’ve abandoned some of that nuance.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  3. Chris
    October 26, 2011

    “these lyrics mean almost nothing”

    Yes… and? I like lyrics that make no sense. They’re lyrics, after all, and music comes first. Hell, I think we should try to move past this tyranny-of-making-sense stage.

  4. maorka
    October 26, 2011

    I have only listened to the mp3 included in this review, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” but I can definitely see Jeff’s point. I have liked some artists that hipsters have scorned as “too commerical”, for example Creed, so I don’t buy the hipster arguments. But nevertheless, the club vibe of this track seems out of character with the Cold Play sound and I would not have expected them to evolve in this direction. I am all for artistic growth and changing it up but I have to agree with Jeff that this turn does not agree with my ears and expectations for the band either. That said, in the end much of it comes down to individual likes and dislikes. It’s also possible the song and album would also grow on me with repeated listens, once I got used to the new sound.

  5. Alex harris
    October 27, 2011

    Sorry dude but I completely disagree with your review.Good pop music is the hardest music to write.To be honest, Coldplay were always gonna go this way as chris doesn’t just write for his band but for other pop acts aswell- especially r n b-he just keeps a low profile about this to separate his writing career from his band.I think people need to get over the fact that CP are not the band they started off as-they HAVE progressed and have bloody big balls for making this fantastic pop record.I hate the hipster I said earlier-i’ve been a songwriter for 20 years and I can tell you it’s far easier to write tracks that are deemed hipster for the sake of it.I find them songs everso fake.much harder to write a simplistic pop track that everyone can pick up easily.Coldplays new record makes me feel alive and I can only applaud them for this brave and colorful album and career move-it’s exciting and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

    • jeffort23
      October 27, 2011

      Thanks for your feedback Alex.

      OK, guilty secret. I love pop music. Always have… at least since I was seven years old and first heard MJ’s Thriller and (gulp) Hall n’ Oates’ Private Eyes. So I agree that nothing matches the rush and pure delight of a catchy, feel-good pop song. And they are tough to write. If anyone could do it, anyone would.

      But I think what’s even harder to write, and what I’ve grown to appreciate even more, are those songs that have lyrical and musical depth, tension, conflict, strife….. whatever you want to call it AND have the catchiness of a good pop song. That’s what I spend my time looking and listening for — the “High and Dry’s,” the “Smells Like Teen Spirit’s,” the “Where is My Mind’s,” all the way back to the “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’s.” For me, personally, that balance between accessibility and thematic weight is what signifies great, moving music. And it’s not about hipster vs. pop (I’m sorry if my original post suggested that) because those categories are shallow, generalized buckets anyway. They don’t have to be in opposition.

      Speaking of Nirvana, it’s the 20th anniversary of Nevermind and what strikes me the most, listening to it again, is how gorgeous, listenable, and hooky it is. When I was 16, I didn’t notice that. I thought I loved it because it sounded impassioned and revolutionary and fucking abrasive. Now I realize how smart Butch Vig was, because it’s basically a punk album dressed up in pop, or maybe the other way around. The catchiness made palatable Cobain’s message of disillusionment and apathy and anger in such a way that any 16 year old kid could swallow it.

      I feel, maybe wrongly so, that Coldplay is a band with the skills, opportunity, and mass appeal to do this sort of thing — to take up a bigger cause and use their musical gifts to appeal to millions of people about….something that matters. And I’m really bummed they’re not doing it. Instead they’re wrapping glossy, auto-tuned production and sunshine melodies around stuff like “You use your heart as a weapon and it hurts like heaven” and “Once upon a time we’re burning bright all we ever seem to do is fight on and on and on and on and on.” To me, again, to me personally, it feels like the band I could once connect with is gone. Now they’re singing about bright lights, big stages, and cotton candy.

      If Martin wants to be a pop star that’s fine, but understand that 2011’s version of pop is far more diluted, simplistic, and emotionally devoid than what we heard in 1982. A good chunk of pop music today is made by people with no musical or lyrical talent (many don’t play instruments or write their own songs), with little to say, and even littler to think. I know Coldplay is better than that. So I guess my point is, go for a pop sound to widen your audience, but hold on to the emotional sincerity that made “Don’t Panic” and “A Warning Sign” and “See You Soon” so incredibly powerful in the first place.

      Thanks again for the feedback. I appreciate it.

  6. Clark
    October 28, 2011

    To me, Mylo Xyloto is spectacular. I’m even going to dare to say it’s ahead of our time. We live in such a skeptical culture where everything is heavily examined, questioned, and judged. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, this album is a breath of fresh air in the midst of a world so focused on just ‘getting to the point’. The lyrics are sparse, that’s for sure. But, is that bad? Maybe to the skeptic they don’t seem to make sense, but, what about all the room for inference that is left to the listener? What about the chance to fill in the gaps of lyrics/meaning with your own meaning?

    That’s what I love so much about this album. Mylo Xyloto seems to be more about creative art and something people around the world can appreciate than of making a distinct point about certain issues, for the politics of it. Mylo Xyloto is an album to crank up in your car and just forget about all the crap in the world. Does it really matter what exact point Chris is trying to make? Why? If the music being made is something that brightens the listeners day, then I would consider it a success (not that successful music has to do that!) I feel like this album is very optimistic and playful- compared to most music today. Think back to when you were a kid, you just wanted to play and be happy; there wasn’t a problem in the world. Obviously that’s not realistic or responsible in the ‘real world’ but, I think it’s a bad thing if we let our art get poisoned by reality. Art can be an escape, a place where we can go to get away for awhile. To me, that’s what Mylo Xyloto is.

    Another good example of this is splatter art, which happens to be the theme for this album. Splatter art looks cool. That’s it, plain and simple. A canvas with splatter art isn’t an actual picture of anything, yet, it can still resonate within us. I think there’s a similar philosophy behind Mylo Xyloto. It is sporadic, random, formless, and possibly even meaningless. But, it’s still intriguing! It doesn’t have to mean anything specific to be important or ‘good’.

    If anything, listen to this album and just enjoy the brilliant musicality of it. It’s hard not to appreciate its unparalleled production and eclectic instruments taken from cultures around the world. This is an album that rarely gets put out because of the creative risks one must take to accomplish an album of this caliber. Turn it up, forget the cares of this world, and enjoy!

  7. jeffort23
    October 29, 2011

    Timely side note: Tom Ewing over at P4k just published an article about Coldplay and what he calls “Big Music” that captures some of the skepticism I’m feeling about Mylo Xyloto. A quote from the article: “It’s repellent because I feel manipulated by it, dragged into a state of emotive groupthink I want to kick out against. On some level you know the Big Music is a hustle, a box of tricks or effects someone is using on you. But it can work anyway.” But his article also may explain why some folks are connecting so deeply with the record. It’s an interesting theory.

    Are Mylo Xyloto critics just soulless, Godless bastards?

  8. Neema
    November 2, 2011

    I’m with you man. 100% percent. I’ve found that the people who back this album don’t know Coldplay. Haven’t memorized every song from their past 4 albums or harmonized to AROBTTH when they were in jr. high. Yeah, I speak from experience. I’m upset at Coldplay and I will continue to support and love their other albums, but I refuse to stoop down to the level of Mylo Xyloto.

  9. flyhopper59
    November 9, 2011

    You put my feelings about this album into words. I can’t believe what Coldplay has become – a pop machine without a soul.

  10. Xemie
    March 9, 2012

    I was surfing the net last week when I stumbled upon this article that is Federico Garcia Lorca’s lecture on the duende. The duende. When was the last time I experienced duende?

    I got pretty preoccupied with things, racing with life quite fast that I robbed myself off of the things that offer wonder, beauty, truth and substance. Upon reading Lorca’s duende I reflected that Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing was one of their last songs that had duende looked me in the eye.

    “I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.”

    Time and again it has been proven that the duende can never be deceived or misrepresented; there are neither tributes nor substitutes for it.

    “With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.”

    “The duende….Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.”

    I love Coldplay. I sincerely do. And though I believe there is no art for art’s sake; art that is devoid of politics, I sincerely hope Coldplay will, with an iron conviction, stay true to their music.

    I don’t know. I’m no critic. But where can I find duende in Mylo Xylto?

    • jeffort23
      March 9, 2012

      Well said Dean. I share your sentiment. Months after Mylo Xyloto’s release, I’ve learned one thing — good or bad, Coldplay’s music evokes passionate feelings in a lot of people. Or, I guess, one man’s duende is another man’s dung.

      On a side note, I’d recommend listening to Frank Ocean’s version of “Strawberry Swing” also — same melody but a very different sentiment. I found it extremely moving.

      • dean
        March 12, 2012

        I’ll Google it. Thanks.

  11. jason
    March 25, 2012

    I’m an ancient person because I just heard mylo xyloto yesterday. I was up in the hinterlands for a year and a half doing some company’s research.

    At first I thought I got the wrong record. I got completely confused. Like, did I download someone else’s pop songs?

    And this blog entry made me cry. The review is just so true and after reading the last comment I can’t help but cry. I could almost hear xemie’s sighs and taste his seemingly tortured being that is the same as mine.

    Please, please, bring the old coldplay back.

  12. Bambi
    September 10, 2012

    There are as many cliches in this review as there are in Coldplays latest album i think. Thing is though, listening to Coldplays album was far more enjoyable than reading this bland review which was neither insightful, witty or educational. The reviewer clearly knows fuck all about making music and is no doubt a sworn disciple of the cult of cool, who are basically middle class spoilt pricks, with to much education and no creativity of there own. No doubt an aspiring music journalist I hope he never gets there, but then again he probably will coz judging by the review he’ll fit right in with the rest of those reprobates parading as musically discerning intellectuals.

    As staunch a defence as this is, I am not really a Coldpay fan,therefore I harbour no yearning for them to return to there glory days, or wishes for them to return to their true roots etc etc yawn… I simply acknowledge that they generally make good songs… and occasionally have moments of brilliance… hmmm maybe thats too strong. Its true that they walk a fine line between credibility and pop, but that just means they’ve won acknowledgement from both sides of the fence.

    Coldplays latest album, will not stimulate the depths of the hardened musical explorer, but its an ok place to hang your hat in-between your expeditions, its definitely a commercially appealing record and it has some interesting musical moments too.

    I am quite certain the album will bring joy too countless millions, regardless of age cultural background race or gender. Furthermore, budding musicians and professionals alike may find a lesson or two in there somewhere too, which i think is quite a notable achievement for any piece of music.

    • jeffort23
      September 10, 2012

      Coldplay continues to stir both adoration and hatred, even among non-fans!!!

      Thanks for your feedback, Bambi, which was well-written and actually quite funny, even if I disagree with your assessment that my writing is a steaming pile of shit. But to each his own. Who knows? Perhaps one day you might even deem to become one of us “reprobates parading as musically discerning intellectuals.” I’ll keep an eye out for your handiwork.

  13. abigail
    October 26, 2012

    To be honest coldplay is my favorite band ever!!! “Every teardrop is a waterfall” is my theme song by the way. I honestly don’t think coldplay has done a bad job on this album at all. I mean I listen to them almost every day, and I replay these songs over and over on my computer. To me coldplay songs have always had meaning and they still do. I disagree with your review. They’re amazing!

  14. Joey Coe
    November 22, 2012

    great review.

  15. Peter Fryatt
    February 23, 2013

    The phrase ‘I’d rather be a comma than a full stop means he doesn’t want the band to die. It’s a well known expression. And the guitars aren’t auto tuned. None of it is. Good one

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This entry was posted on October 24, 2011 by in Coldplay, Reviews and tagged , , , , .
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