Expectations can be a beast in the world of music criticism. Bands can blow up overnight thanks to blog reviews, even when they don’t have an album to promote – the live shows are that good. Then, when the album drops and it isn’t as magnificent as people expected, the band is dropped like a hot potato, while sites like Pitchfork leap to the next flavor of the week they can’t help hyping to death.
The dreaded sophomore slump isn’t so much named for a significant drop in quality or artistic vision, but rather for the frequent sales drop-off when fans don’t like a band’s second album as much as the one they worshiped maybe a year prior. Worse is the fate doled out to bands who initially sound like another popular act; they initially get a benefit from that comparison, only to have fans turn on them when their music either doesn’t follow closely enough in the footsteps of the iconic act, or conversely fails by following too closely with the original.
Such has been the fate of Coldplay, a band which clearly can’t win for losing.
If you were to spend too much time reading what the majority of the criticsphere has to say about Mylo Xyloto, the latest Coldplay album, you’d have to wonder if this one collection of songs happened to be the worst thing to happen to music since Kevin Federline’s rap abortion. “It’s a bit uplifting, but ultimately insipid,” was the write-up they received in the UK’s Observer, while the Guardian referred to the album as “standard issue Coldplay” in the perjorative, as though a band’s fifth album sounding like anything recorded prior to its release is somehow a brutal disservice to all appropriately cultured music fans.
It’s almost been a competition to see who can damn the album with the faintest praise. You see, what’s worse than a sophomore slump is the brutal crash to earth which comes when a band previously christened as a “hipster alternative to pop” decides to continue recording pop music long after the hipsters have decided to throw said band to the dogs.
I, for one, was never a particularly huge fan of Coldplay. “Yellow,” off their debut Parachutes, bored me to tears with its repetition and was doomed by radio overplay. And A Rush of Blood to the Head, the band’s sophomore effort, featured solid songs but frequently seemed to this critic as though the band was trying too hard to come up with songs to match what radio wanted from a follow-up to Parachutes. That, and the band was fighting to avoid becoming overly pretentious. While many have always lumped them in with the 90s brit-pop of Oasis and the rousing stadium rock of U2, with others clamoring for Chris Martin to follow in Thom Yorke’s avant-garde footsteps, the band was merely at the time trying to find its own voice and follow its own path.
Over the last eight or nine years, however, the band has grown on me. They’ve proven to be willing to push the envelope and try experiments with style, while sticking primarily to the world of pop music. While Radiohead saw a chance to go mainstream with the uber-success of OK Computer and then turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction, choosing to avoid pop at all costs, Coldplay wants to be the pop band everyone likes, with hooks that stick in your head and won’t leave, like tiny musical viruses. They finally found songs that led in that direction on Viva La Vida, which had a title signaling pretension even as the music was more mainstream than ever: I dare you to keep the tribal hook that is “Lost!” out of your head once it sneaks in.
NEXT: Why Mylo Xyloto is far from the abomination critics have made it seem.