Music: 2½ stars
Sound: 5 stars
Most of the music-buying public may disagree, but Coldplay is a tough band to get passionate about, pro or con.
On one level, there’s nothing wrong with Mylo Xyloto. The big hooks and grandiose sweeps arrive on cue, and every moment seems tailor-made for radio (or climactic scenes in prime-time TV dramas). Yet there’s also nothing — aside from the gorgeous, multi-layered sound — to mark this album as the work of one of the world’s biggest bands.
For the record, the production is credited to Markus Dravs, Daniel Green, and Rik Simpson. Dravs and Simpson are returning from 2008’s Viva La Vida — and, in the interim, Dravs co-produced Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. It’s conceivable, though, that the sound of Mylo Xyloto owes as much to another Vida production veteran, Brian Eno, here credited with “enoxification and additional composition.”
In any case, the recording team has done everything in its power to make the songs more interesting, whether that’s adding cathedral ambience to a slight acoustic ballad (“U.F.O.”), doing sonic treatments on Chris Martin’s voice to make it seem more versatile, or introducing and linking the tracks with soundscapes (which, to me, sure do resemble the patented soundscapes of Eno). When Martin writes one of his U2 homages (“Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”), the production makes certain it comes close to the real thing, right down to the shimmering Edge-isms on the guitar. (And who’s been co-producing U2 consistently since 1984? Exactly.) In addition, the album has an introduction that’s so dramatic, you’re bound to be a bit disappointed when the first proper song — “Hurts Like Heaven,” a standard-issue bubblegum bopper — finally kicks in.
When an album’s overall production is this imaginative, you hope that the band in question can bring some of its own big ideas to the game — but the imagination department is where Coldplay has always tripped up. Martin has hinted in interviews that this album is about a young couple (Mylo and Xyloto) and their battles against the world. That’s clear enough, because there’s a song called . . . “Us Against the World.” But Martin isn’t much for establishing three-dimensional characters, or creating conflict between them, or even explaining how they came by such exotic names. Rihanna is here for a romantic duet, “Princess of China,” which sounds like it wandered in from a different album (complete with glaring Auto-Tune). Otherwise, the story (such as it is) seems a license for Martin to draw some truisms about the redemptive power of love.
That’s a perfectly appropriate theme for pop songs, even when clunky bird and paradise metaphors are involved. And Martin’s melodies are invariably appealing — sometimes even memorable, as on the guitar-driven, XTC-like “Charlie Brown.” Still, the disc’s breezy-pop-tune/brooding-ballad structure gets too predictable too soon, and “Up in Flames” pulls the old “Yellow” trick of running one weighty-sounding phrase into the ground.
In short, it’s all a logical next step for a band whose previous album boldly declared that life was, uh, better than death.
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