As Good as It is Hard to Spell

Courtesy of Parlophone

Coldplay is often labeled of many things: overrated, mainstream, grandiose, overproduced, etc., and more often than not, they are. One cannot, however, accuse them of being subtle. Not ever. That’s okay, though, since subtlety is simply not in Coldplay’s nature.

Following their 2009 Grammy Award-winning “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” is no easy task, so Coldplay conjured up a new and eclectic set with their latest album, “Mylo Xyloto.” This is actually a concept album about two lovers fighting the oppression of their dystopian society. That theme becomes prevalent on songs like “Us Against the World” and “Major Minus,” but I was too busy enjoying the exquisite jams on this album to really pay attention to the story.

“Mylo Xyloto,” a 42-second prelude, is striking in its simplistic xylophonic warmth. This introduction teases the eardrums in readiness for the first full track, “Hurts Like Heaven,” which is a fast-paced and catchy tune, is meant to get you out of your seat.

With a cathedral-like ringing, the single “Paradise” lingers closer to avid storytelling and lyrical depth and reminds me of their experimentation with orchestra, such as they did with “Viva la Vida.” “Paradise” is a story about seeking the perfect world.

“Charlie Brown” marches overhead and contributes to the continued enchanting atmosphere and depth of an exploratory set. Chris Martin’s vocals, paired with guitar chords, are tantalizing, and “Charlie Brown” champions itself as the album’s highlight.

With a more stripped-down bare-bones arrangement, “Us Against the World” gives Martin a chance to shine and peels open vulnerability and pain in a new way. Taking a rebelliously juicy tone, Coldplay is able to reveal a world deceived by lights and glamour. “Us Against the World” unabashedly confesses and begs a fast-paced world to “slow it down.”

“M.M.I.X.,” a spacy 48-second interlude (which seemed rather unnecessary to me), ushers in the lead single, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.” The lyrics aren’t their best, but you can tell that this track is full of passion, as it depends on chanting guitar strumming and repetitive lyrics.

“Major Minus,” a light-handed perspective on government, is an intricate guitar jam. “They got one eye watching you,” Martin warns. The breezy arrangement warps the serious nature of the lyrics into a less-than-complicated form.

“Still got such a long way to go,” Martin sings in the first verse of “U.F.O.,” which is constructed more like an interlude than a full track. In only two minutes and 10 seconds, Martin is professing that the album is only half done and that there is more to get done.

The most radio-friendly track, “Princess of China,” features Rihanna and is a dance track that combines R&B, pop and rock influences. Rihanna’s vocals balance nicely with Martin’s more jagged tone at the chorus, but it’s a forgettable track since the blurred beat’s fuzziness makes the song seem poorly produced.

“Up in Flames” begins with a synth-sown drumbeat, suggesting another club track. Once Martin starts singing, though, “Up in Flames” takes a wildly different path. With only the slightly pronounced drumbeat and piano, the track is perhaps the most vulnerable Coldplay has been in a good while. The chorus may be quite repetitive, but the constant “up in flames” chant nails down the intense desperation he is going through.

The interlude “A Hopeful Transmission” suggests that “Mylo Xyloto” is signaling an evolution of time and space. Rhythmically, it swiftly transitions into “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart,” a message about getting through the bad times. Much in the same cliff-jarring vein of previous tracks, “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” glues together even more synthetic drums and chords to boil together a sing-along story.

A droning back track is pinned down by a piano-driven melody in “Up with the Birds.” “The birds they sang at break of day / Start again, I hear them say,” Martin sings. At around the 40-second mark, a chorus echoing “the birds they sang, all a choir,” serves as a crown for Martin’s more heartfelt and stripped-down nuances. A guitar later joins in, and the low-key performance turns into a fulfilling and indulgent production.

The biggest key to greatness in “Mylo Xyloto” lies in how Coldplay is able to expand their sound and explore new styles of music without forgetting why they are successful in the first place. The soulful ballads that drove their first three albums can be heard in “Mylo Xyloto,” but adding elements of electronic music help the album compete with the songs that have been topping the charts these days.  It allows Coldplay to place their music into a new context without stripping them of their identity.

Although “Mylo Xyloto” is obviously Coldplay’s most electronic album, it’s also their most adventurous and the album is as good as it’s hard to spell.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5