Chris Martin has talked up Coldplay’s fifth release as either a concept album or a musical. The concept is in a half-baked story about two lovers using music as their weapon of defiance in a dystopian world. The musical is more of the band’s life-affirming rock only with more frills and electronic bells on.
But whatever about concept and Broadway show tunes, Mylo Xyloto does live up its exotic title with a hyperactive and zesty. technicolor sound that comes as sweet relief after the grim trudge of Viva La Vida.
It really does sound like Coldplay were determined to jettison their designer existentialism and write songs brimming with joy and uplift and they sound free and ready for action on an album full of widescreen hugeness. The gorgeous shimmering guitars of Hurts Like Heaven and the exhilarating thrash of Paradise are stadium-bound anthems that keep bombast in check and while Martin makes it clear what cartoon character he identifies with on Charlie Brown (we suspect certain rock stars rather prefer Stewie Griffen) you can forgive him his lack of outsider cred when the song explodes into glorious melody.
On Us Against The World he’s once again playing po-faced choir boy to Bono’s preacher with faux religious imagery and the U2 adoration continues on the exhilarating thrash of Every Teardrop is a Waterfall with blandishments about “rebel songs” and “raising flags” and a drum finish straight outta the intro to Sunday Bloody Sunday. Best to ignore Martin’s suspect sloganeering and concentrate on the band’s conviction, something that’s clear on Major Minus (the best song here) which fairly flies with great flashes of echoing guitars.
To their credit, Coldplay have always tried to break out of their anaemic rock confines and while Martin’s pairings with Kanye and Jay-Z have not always been successful, his seemingly bizarre collaboration with Rihanna on the massive-sounding Princess of China is one of Mylo Xyloto’s finest moments.
There’s bluster aplenty on Don’t Let it Break Your Heart and the icky finale Up With The Birds but enervating plodders like U.F.O. and Up in Flames are thankfully few on a Coldplay album that mostly thrums with glittering electronics and a rhythm section at the top of its game. Of course, Martin still has the endearing naffness of a folk group singer trying hard to be cool at a youth mass but his gift for mass appeal melody is rarely in doubt.
Coldplay fans will rejoice in communal rapture; Coldplay detractors will wince and wonder what happened to the band that made the magnificent 21st century hymn to alienation that is A Rush of Blood to The Head.
However, this game of Xs and Os has quite a few surprises.