Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto and Why Sometimes Pop is Just Pop
After reading all the negative reviews for Mylo Xyloto, an album which I will admit is saddled by one of the most ridiculous titles ever, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that really what the band chooses to present here is a rational follow-up to Viva La Vida. Mylo Xyloto doesn't stand up to a great deal of lyrical scrutiny, which is why so many critics have slashed at Martin's throat by going after his lyrical failings.
But where the album shines is from a pure pop standpoint. "Hurts Like Heaven" is mindlessly catchy in a way few songs have been so far in 2011 – even when you hear yourself singing along to a line as inane as "You use your heart as a weapon but it hurts like heaven," you've got to marvel at the tunefulness of the underlying melody, a melody which segues seamlessly into "Paradise," the band's seeming follow-up to "Lost!" which opens with strings and synths piling slowly upon each other until half a minute when the dark crunchy bass end comes into play. "She expected the world but it flew away from her reach," Martin sings. "She ran away in her sleep into paradise!" The stuttering falsetto chorus – "Para-para-para-paradise!" -- coupled with Martin's "Oooh oooh oooh" harmonizing – turns the song into a barnstormer. If you can't find something fun in this listening experience, you're so jaded I don't know that I want to know you.
The rest of the album is a joy to hear because it builds as a logical progression. The frantic desperation of "Charlie Brown" pumps up the energy just in time to drop off completely into the somber simplicity of "Us Against The World" (as apt a title as any on the album), which allows Martin to play with his more acoustic side, a la X&Y's "Til Kingdom Come."
"I just want to be there when the lightning strikes and the saints go marching in," Martin sings, and it's his mantra. Coldplay is here to be the world's pop band even if the world isn't ready to stand up to the hipsters and admit it wants a pop band.
We all say we want experimentation, raw creativity, explosions of avant-garde pretentiousness. But when push comes to shove, Coldplay will be there when we're ready for something which strips all that away, leaving nothing but the pure, comforting essence of pop. It's telling that "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall," the band's choice for lead single, is far from the most exceptional track on the album.
It comes down to expectations. If you see Coldplay as Radiohead-lite, you've already decided their music is something less than that of a band you already revere. As for the "it's so sickly sweet" mantra, Coldplay's music has always been something of an aural diabetic's enemy … if you can't tolerate sugary pop music, you've been coming to the wrong band and simply aren't going to be able to judge the album for what it's really offering. Mylo Xyloto doesn't so much take Coldplay in new directions as it works to cement the band in the eyes of its fans as one firmly planted in the world of pop. Any experimentation which is to be done will be performed with the aim of pushing their music more fully into the world of pop.
In the end there's the "relevance" debate. I, for one, don't feel a band's relevance depends on a willingness to completely reinvent its sound album to album. Coldplay succeeds in the same vein as journeymen pop acts like Train – when "Hey Soul Sister" became a smash hit this year, it wasn't because Train sold its soul for a pop hit. They simply kept making albums the way they'd done since Train hit shelves in 1999, and eventually the pop radio world came back around and found them playable again. Coldplay is never going to be something for everyone. They'll remain a punching bag album in, album out for critics who refuse to admit that there's more than one way to experience music.
Sometimes all we want is pop music for pop music's sake. To quote the band's latest single: "I turn the music up, I've got my records on. I'll shut the world outside until the lights come on." Indeed. Coldplay's latest may not be the brilliance everyone seems to have expected, but it's a perfectly acceptable fifth album from a band clearly set on continuing to craft addictive pop confections long after their critics have put down their pens. If it's not your cup of tea, there's always another remix album of Radiohead's King of Limbs you can dig into while venting about how bands like Coldplay don't live up to expectations.