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11.20.11

“Mylo Xyloto” by Coldplay – a review

Filed under: creativity,music — 8:58 pm

Coldplay

To be honest, I’m of two minds about the new Coldplay album.  I could build a case for why this is pop/rock music at its finest, and I could build a case for why Coldplay lost the magic 3 albums ago.

During my first listen through “Mylo Xyloto,” I was not impressed.  In fact, all I could hear was the shiny production and over-reaching ambition.  Had I written this review then, it would have been quite disappointed and dismissive.  But then something happened.  We brought the CD on a weekend road-trip, and a handful of the songs burrowed their way into my brain.  “Paradise,” for example, is one of those songs I can’t get enough of.  The bass is ENORMOUS and menacing, the slow groove is infectious, and the melody is like eating cotton candy with a side of deep fried chocolate bacon.  (I know it’s not good for me…but I can’t help myself!)  And although I pretend to be too cool, I bellow along with the “Ohs!” in the chorus on occasion.  Okay…every time.  And you should hear Henry sing, “Para, para, paradise“–that alone will make a fan out of anyone.

My other two favorites are the beautiful “Us Against the World” and the sure-to-blow-the-roof-off-every-live-venue “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.”

But as much as I like these songs, I can’t shake the feeling that Coldplay is trying WAY too hard.
They want to be the biggest band in the world WAY too badly, and their music no longer feels as honest or organic as some of their older stuff.  I’d be surprised to hear Chris Martin say “I’m not sure if people will like it, but these songs just gushed out of me and I had to share them.”  Obviously, I don’t know them or their motives or their creative process, but this album sounds (to me) meticulously and expertly crafted for radio, stadium, and world domination.

As you know, “Rush of Blood to the Head” is one of my favorite, all-time albums–check out How Coldplay Saved me as a Worship Leader–and I’m desperate for them to recapture some of that magic.  I want to say “Guys, please strip all the shiny production away, tell Rhianna ‘thanks but no thanks,’ stop trying to compete with more talented bands, and sit down in a small room to write some brilliant songs again.

“And Chris, please don’t write for the radio or for Billboard or to chase Bono.  Lady Gaga is creating plenty of pop music that will be forgotten down the road.  Don’t feel pressure to write songs you think we want to hear.  We need you to be brave enough to dig deep back into the fragile, neurotic, honest place that makes you great…and create something truly human again.  You’ve done it before (“Politik“, “The Scientist“), and I believe you can again.”

—-

What do you all think?  Strongly agree or disagree?  What’s your take on Coldplay’s music?

10 Comments »

  1. Haven’t heard the new cd but I agree on rush of blood to the head. Their older stuff is way better. Aside from the ones you mentioned, clocks, fix you, and lost their recent tracks just blend in with the crowd. I long for songs that are written from a true artists love and not to make a label happy. From a mainstream level there may never be albums like ‘rush of blood to the head’ or my all time favorite ‘august and everything after’ by the counting crows again, but I hope not.

    Comment by Craig — November 20, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

  2. I see what you are getting at but I feel that if they went less pop then they’d be accused of trying to be like Radiohead. I think Brian Eno has a massive influence on their production which doesn’t help when being compared to U2, how can they please anyone?? I’m not sure I agree with the above comment as I think they very much want the album to heard as one piece, I’ve heard them talk about that. Whether that works is up to the listener I suppose. I think the last two albums have been a big improvement on XY, these latest two albums have got ‘trying to be the biggest band in the world’ ambition but they feel like the exist in different places……Politik is the song that made me take Coldplay seriously.

    Comment by Andy — November 21, 2011 @ 2:25 am

  3. I find it interesting … why is there an assumption that they aren’t writing the songs they want to write? They’ve always liked a catchy melody — if anything, they’ve simply gotten better at it. And in an era of shrinking recording budgets, disappearing fans, and 100,000 micro genres with everyone finding their little niche and sticking to it, they’ve managed to take their basic sound and expand on it with each record. They have the money to explore and use the studio in ways most bands cannot — especially “alternative” bands (a genre that has been treading water for years).

    X&Y was a bloated transition record but the next two, I would argue, are actually better albums than anything they’ve done before. The highs may not be quite as high as earlier but the lows certainly aren’t as low. For all their charms, Parachutes and Rush can be ponderously dull at times. Depth, gravity, and emotion aren’t exclusively tied to a steady stream of slow-to-midtempo songs. And as their lyrics have been more serviceable than mind-blowing on any record, the fact that they’ve expanded their musical palette (a bit) and actually sped up on occasion is commendable.

    Not many bands can fill an arena anymore, especially any from the last decade. Coldplay, somehow, can do so and in an era of splintered fandom, hearing 60,000 people sing “Viva La Vida” can be pretty amazing. How many bands can lay claim to changing their sound up, albeit slightly, with every album while still maintaining a huge fanbase? Instead of remaking Rush, they’ve taken (minor) chances — a far more admirable path than sounding like the exact same band 10 years later. If you’re a band known for britpop/U2 style alternative anthems (that have been quite successful), why would adding a bunch of synths and lightly borrowing from UK dance and dubstep culture be considered a safe move? If anything, it’s potentially alienating to older fans (ahem…).

    Lastly, to end my diatribe, where did the idea come from that pop music is disposable and will be forgotten in a few years while rock bands will endure? While I don’t defend Lady Gaga (most importantly because her new album’s singles aren’t any good), pop music can have as much staying power as anything else. It’s easy to think the Beatles were just great artists and that people appreciated better music back then but they were teen idols before they were anything else. U2, REM, and Radiohead were all extremely popular (for varying lengths of time). But, so were Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson — mainstream pop artists in no danger of going anywhere. History favors those that impact a lot of people. If it weren’t for rock critics or a small cult following, Velvet Underground’s “Nico” would be entirely forgotten — an album frequently cited as influential and important. I’ve yet to find more than two people who have actually heard it, let alone listen to it regularly. Nirvana and Pearl Jam may have created a mini revolution back in the early 90s but they also sold millions of records. It’s more likely that the small buzz bands and one or two album wonders will disappear into the pop culture ether.

    To summarize that whole thing in eleven words: I think the new Coldplay record is their best. Me likey.

    It probably would’ve been easier if I just wrote that…

    Comment by bd — November 21, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  4. bd (above) has expressed my feeling exactly. Viva la pop songs.

    Comment by Jim — November 21, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  5. BD,

    I think I’m in the same boat… I didn’t even seriously consider enjoying Coldplay until X&Y. I remember liking Clocks, but not impressed with much else on Rush (which I love now, by the way. I have evolved). But I think I had matured enough and was “ready” by the time X&Y came out.

    (Working at Starbucks while they massively promoted the record there helped too, I’m sure).

    But by the time Viva arrived, I got it the day it came out. From not even knowing the band when Parachutes came out, to barely noticing Rush, to enjoying X&Y, I’ve become a Coldplay evangelist. Pre-ordering albums, consuming live concerts on YouTube… I’m a total fan-boy.

    That all being said, I think it’s great the guys are writing “happy” songs. Viva was a major left turn from X&Y, and now Mylo is building off of that. Incorporating new sounds, showing signs of joy while they play live… This is a Coldplay that didn’t exist 5 years ago, and that’s OK. Maybe, as it seems all bands do as they stick around, they will hit a wall. Maybe they will release a “Pop” at some point, but I’d rather that than hear “The Joshua Tree” 12 more times.

    Comment by Joel — November 21, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

  6. Thanks for the text/update and question… sorry it took me so long to get back to you.

    As usual, I agree with some of your sentiment, though also disagree.

    Most notably, In my opinion, taking context into play, THEY ARE THE BIGGEST BAND ON THE PLANET. Right now.

    What I mean by that is they are the biggest band that still makes relevant music. Look, I love U2, even more than Coldplay, and they are still bigger than them (and probably always will be), but I would argue that U2 has been doing far more controversial antics lately to stay “somewhat current”… (American Idol anyone?)

    Look at like this, when U2 first started playing arenas and stadiums, would you call them the biggest band in the world? Or, would you still defer to the Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones stopped making music for a younger audience decades ago, but their massiveness still continues. U2 became the biggest band because they made music kids listened to.

    Coldplay is in their position now, and U2 have become the Rolling Stones.

    It’s natural progression.

    The fact that Mylo X sold as many copies in its first week is astonishing, and shows you their broad appeal.

    This, in a time, when rock is dying on a commercial scale. Read any Rolling Stone and you’ll know that the inevitable isn’t on the way, it’s already here.

    The fact that a rock band can sell that many albums is staggering.

    They not only sold 477,000 units in the first week, but became one of the only bands to pull their back catalogue into the top 70 (5 different albums all made it there).

    (Note, No Line on the Horizon sold 505,000 it’s first week, but Viva La Vida sold 700,000, so take into account a dwindling market and you’ll understand my point more)

    Now, as far as the music goes, I’ll agree I could do without Rhianna.

    But that all being said, they’ve been far more experimental in their last few albums. I think the issue you seem to have is what form of music they’re experimenting with. Drum loops, dance beats, and pop cameos aren’t my cup of tea either… but you did like it when U2 went ahead and made Pop, so there is that.

    It’s a weird thing, creativity and the ways in which fellow artists see things.

    I’m not a musician, so I never get bored of Coldplay and their unique sound. I find it very palatable where as you see a lack of growth.

    Conversely, as an actor, I’m tired of seeing someone like Will Ferrel do the same 3 characters over and over. I found him immensely enjoyable in Stranger Than Fiction, but clearly the public would rather the same version over and over.

    We want everyone to change dramatically like The Beatles and U2 did (at one point, though they’re pretty back to basics now).

    How many bands can and want to do that?

    I don’t know.

    In closing, I’m not blown away by the album.

    But no, I don’t think they’re trying too hard.

    I think this is what they like to do and what they like to make.

    Wes Anderson makes the same type of films over and over, does that make him a poseur?

    ps- The above comment stating that if they did get too experimental they’d be accused of trying to be Radiohead is DEAD ON. That’s part of my problem with all of us as fans of music (in particular rock fans), we’re too busy dissecting everything everyone does and moving on from band to band that the entire genre is dying.

    I hate it.

    I want my rock back.

    Comment by Kurt — November 22, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

  7. Hello friends,
    This blog needs more lady commenters! :) Anyway, I wanted to chime in on this topic. I remember traveling through West Africa on a workcamp in 2003. I had a cd player and a couple cds and one book. Coldplay’s album A Rush of Blood to the Head accompanied the book, The Magus, by John Fowles almost perfectly. I hadn’t really planned on linking the two, but they really fit hand in hand as I read through the book. I haven’t really found that much to enjoy since that album, but I still try and listen to their releases when I have the patience.

    cheers fellas!

    Comment by Ledonia — November 22, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

  8. There has been a lot of interesting thoughts already…and I’ll think I’ll just add to that.

    First of all, anyone who concludes that Mylo Xyloto is Coldplay’s best album is clearly not a fair minded Coldplay fan. If there’s anything that has brought Coldplay as far as they’re at today, it’s their definitely their songwriting and not their production or their experimentation. Mylo Xyloto as a whole simply contains poor songs. You can’t just put Politik and Hurts Like Heaven next to each other and be ok with it. In this respect, I definitely agree with Aaron that they’re indeed trying way too hard to be the world’s biggest band.

    Second of all, Coldplay has developed a bad habit over the years. Whenever something they do blows up, they try to recreate the formula and overdo it. When Clocks became the biggest song in the world, what did they do? They copied themselves and released Speed of Sound, which contains almost the exact same piano part and chord progression. And likewise, after Viva La Vida exploded, they decided to throw “Oh oh oh’s” in every chorus of their next album just to see if it would stick. This is them clearly trying very, very hard, and probably a sign of them not “getting too much better at it.”

    Now, there’s of course some cool new vibes and catchy melodies in the new album. For me, the good stuff was all made known in their pre-album EP. But it’s evident that they’re now really trying to appeal to the younger crowds more than anything (aka. Featuring Rihanna). And if that’s what they are aiming for (which to me is obvious), then they’re absolutely succeeding. Princess of China will be an incredibly astonishing performance at the grammys….and nothing else.

    Lastly, it’s hard to point out at a specific, current genre and say that it will endure. After all, music is constantly evolving…as it should be. If there’s anything that we can learn from the music of the last hundred years is that it’s the craft of songwriting and musical creativity that lasts, not the genre.

    Comment by izy — November 22, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

  9. Wow. The every-man music critic is a fickle beast.

    It’s clear Coldplay can’t win here.

    Either you’re pissed-off that they aren’t who they were ten years ago or you’re mad that they’re the same. They’re copying themselves, but they’re changing too much. And how dare they write music that might appeal to the people that are going to purchase their albums or come to their concerts! And to say they’re trying too hard or that they don’t even like what they’re doing or that they need to “go back to the way they used to write songs”…how could you possibly know any of that??

    The fact is, their lives are COMPLETELY different than they were before Rush of Blood. COMPLETELY. They live in a completely different reality than they did then; one we can’t possibly even imagine. So, to say “sit down in a small room again” and all that…how do you know that’s what they even did? I hear plenty of growth on Mylo. A lot of classic Coldplay stuff; a lot of new stuff. Is it my favorite? Nope. Is it good? Yep.

    In my opinion, there’s no reason to mourn the loss of what once was. If you like it, great. If you don’t, put on something else and move on.

    Sheesh…you’d think I’m best friends with the guys or something. lol

    Comment by Ryan — November 26, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  10. 100% agreement with everything BD said. preach on brother!!

    Comment by OH — November 29, 2011 @ 11:42 am

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