Once upon a time, there was a little band called Coldplay who took over the world. They were a band of sensitive youngins with stars in their eyes and their hearts all a-flutter. They sang songs about serious things like love and death. Their music was full of orchestral sweeps and brooding piano. They knew what the people wanted: the build-ups, familiar climaxes where all the music hummed and swooshed where it should. They made albums that followed this formula, and they sold more and more with each proceeding album. And on Mylo Xyloto, it's the same old story.
On the surface, however, Mylo Xyloto is an atypical Coldplay album. Gone is the piano-led atmosphere of albums like 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head, replaced by synthesizers and greater emphasis on guitar. The lead single "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall," for example, is an electro-hymn with an squiggly guitar lead and techno-lite drums.
Part of this shift is due to producer/electronic music guru Brian Eno. Eno, who also produced Coldplay touchstones U2, was brought on for 2008's Viva La Vida, where his influence is more pronounced. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin even went so far as to call this influence "Enoxification." There is an immense bigness to the sound (arena-sized, arena-made) and sonically, it's the biggest Coldplay album to date.
And with this different sound is continued seriousness. Where Viva La Vida took vague cues from the French Revolution (incorporating Eugène Delacroix's famous painting "Liberty Leading the People" as the cover) Mylo Xyloto is supposed to be a concept album, inspired by a diverse group of sources, including New York graffiti art, the anti-Nazi White Rose movement and HBO's "The Wire."
The story is rather simple: two teens, Mylo and Xyloto, live in a near-future urban dystopia and meet through a gang called The Lost Boys (referenced explicitly in the song "Charlie Brown"), fall in love and... it all kind of trails off after that.
Because no matter how hard Coldplay may try, they can't link any specific concentration to their sound. The Coldplay of Parachutes and XY sang their vague songs of love and death, and everyone joined in because they were so pretty and easy to remember. They sounded serious but no one was paying particular attention to what they were serious about.
On Mylo Xyloto Coldplay don't get the benefit of the doubt. They are being serious with the concept album idea. For instance, "Major Minus" is a driving rock song featuring the repeated lines/variations of "They got one eye watching you / And one on what you do / So be careful who you're talking to." A fairly ominous warning, only to be undercut later with the line "Hear the crocodiles ticking around the world" (at best a bizarre Disney shout-out, at worst nonsense).
But once you get past the electronics and the surface textures, the Coldplay formula is still there: the sweeps, the melodies, the choruses, the arena build-up. Pop, essentially. Especially on the song "Princess in China," featuring a duet with Rihanna designed to move product, not mind.
There is a grand naïveté to the whole of Mylo Xyloto, which is inherent to Coldplay as a whole, a band that has always paid more attention to broad, sweeping feelings rather than particulars. There is little to no edge to Mylo Xyloto, its story or its songs. Anyone looking for a new Coldplay will not find it here.
Yet it succeeds, on some level, due to its earnestness: Martin and company have always been, if not always serious, at least affable and approachable. Fans of Coldplay will rejoice and Mylo Xyloto will convert no one, but no one can deny that it's pleasant-sounding music. It's good everyday music, not profound, but how often do we really look to pop music for profundity?