Mylo Xyloto (Release date – October 24, 2011)
Hi there readers! I can’t believe it’s been nine months since I’ve written a post. Graduate school ended back in May, and while I’ve been tossing around the idea of blogging again, the truth is that I just haven’t gotten around to it. This weekend though, I had sort of a once-in-a-lifetime experience that forced my hand.
If you’re new to my blog and you’re only reading this because I promised something uber-exclusive, then you’ll need to know that it’s no secret what a huge Coldplay fan I am. I first saw them live at the simulcast for their 2005 ACL taping and for the past 6 years, I’ve been a hardcore dedicated fan. I’m also happy to have a conversation with anyone about why loving them doesn’t preclude you from loving the most hipp(ster)ist of bands like TV on the Radio, Andrew Bird, Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, or the even more obscure. After all, this is my philosophy. Welcome to AGMG!
This weekend was pretty much everything a Coldplay fan could ask for: an incredible Austin City Limits taping with new material on Thursday night, and a headlining performance at the 10th Anniversary Austin City Limits Festival on Friday. But when the ol’ husband and I arrived late at home buzzing with excitement after the taping (um, front row and got to meet Chris Martin after the taping…yeah!), there was yet another surprise waiting for us. We discovered we were going to attend an exclusive listening party for Coldplay’s fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, at a secret location Friday afternoon.
We had some vague instructions to meet up at the Hilton by the airport, but we had no idea where we were going or what to expect. To make a very long story shorter, an hour or so later about 30 “winners” were shuffled on to a comfy bus and we were heading toward Congress Ave. We pulled up in the back of the Hotel Saint Cecilia, an absolutely gorgeous location, were fed and shortly thereafter we were herded into a room right off the patio to hear the album on a pair of MINDBLOWING Bowers and Wilkins 800 Diamonds.
It must be said that I wouldn’t normally write a review of any album until I’d listened to it multiple times. I’m making a huge exception here for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve heard most of the songs on the album many times because Coldplay has been playing them at festivals. Second, I’m so familiar with their catalog that I feel pretty assured sharing my opinions on this album, in generalities at the very least. Finally, how many times am I going to get to do this?? Like, none, and I really want to share this info with other excited Coldplay fans. So, without further ado, here’s my review of Mylo Xyloto.
Mylo Xyloto opens with the song of the same name, a tinkly, sparkling piano and xylophone track, a short musical introduction. Coldplay has also been opening their festival shows with this, and as in their live performances, on the album “MX” breezes seamlessly into the guitar-driven “Hurts Like Heaven.” ”Hurts Like Heaven” is a poppy number with ’80s influences (think “Lips Like Sugar“) and a number of terrific cascading riffs from guitarist Jonny Buckland that sound as fresh on the album as they do live. ”HLH”‘s lyrics and Martin’s vocal delivery also give it an urgency that match the guitar work.
“Hurts Like Heaven” gives way into one of Coldplay’s biggest sound divergences to date, the thumping and atmospheric second single, “Paradise.” The string intro to “Paradise” breaks into full-fledged hip-hop influenced synths and a heavy beat. This song has been discussed quite a bit amongst Coldplay fans and has its few detractors, but in the context of the album, it totally works. There are still a ton of Coldplay “indicators” here: piano notes, strings, and Martin’s smooth voice, here in storyteller mode, and the falsetto-filled chorus made for crowd chanting. Yet another reason to like “Paradise” on Mylo Xyloto – the band’s group vocals are simply striking. It was about this time at the listening party that everyone started bopping their heads – a definite good sign for being so early in the album.
One song Coldplay fans have been raving about for months now is the next track “Charlie Brown,” a song that sounds absolutely massive in concert thanks to Buckland’s circuitous, catchy guitar melody and Will Champion’s driving drums. Fans will be pleased to know that the album version is faithful to the live one, and actually, “Charlie Brown” sounds even more affirming on Mylo Xyloto as the production is kept simple and Martin’s voice is loose and fluid. Notably, “Charlie Brown” earned the first spontaneous applause in the tiny room of no more than 40 people.
The production value on “Us Against the World,” one of the standout tracks from Coldplay’s live performances, is thankfully also kept simple. ”Us Against the World” is easily one of the band’s most beautiful songs, and on the record, Martin and Champion’s vocal duet is stunning. ”UATW” has quieted festival crowds into contemplation mode, and it was no different at this event; the listeners totally absorbed it.
“M.M.I.X.”, another short instrumental interlude, quickly turns into Coldplay’s huge summer hit “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” featuring a sample of Peter Allen’s “I Go to Rio.” Much has already been said about “ETIAW,” a divisive track in the Coldplay fan community, but one that I personally enjoy. I mean, I don’t really know what’s not to like about it – it’s fun, the band sounds freer than they ever have, Buckland shines on an incredibly clever guitar riff, Champion pulsates on the drums, and I dig the talk-sing verses. One of my favorite aspects of Martin’s songwriting is how he perfectly encapsulates a sentiment into a simple lyrical line and “ETIAW” is full of examples of that (“I’d rather be a comma than a full stop”). As for the assertion that it’s too “pop”…well I hate to break it to you, but Coldplay’s had songs in the category of pop ever since “Yellow.”
On that note, the eighth track, “Major Minus,” serves as a perfect counterpoint to “ETIAW” for people looking for their rock fix. On the album, “Major Minus” is considerably more glossy than it is live, with Martin’s vocals calling out from behind a gauzy layer. Mylo Xyloto is sequenced so well that that aspect of it doesn’t bother me. I still prefer the searing, blistering live versions of the song personally, where the fervor of guitars, drums, and bass are unfettered. ”Major Minus” is also where the influences of Dylan and Springsteen are the most obvious, particularly in Martin’s phrasing and lyrics, and “MM” features one of the best recent uses of Martin’s falsetto.
It isn’t really until this point in the album that I heard songs that I wasn’t already familiar with. Among the remaining tracks, the one I was looking forward to most was the highly anticipated Rihanna-guesting “Princess of China.” Despite all the fretting/assumptions about it, I feel it is truly a standout track, the centerpiece of the album. This is probably the only other place on Mylo Xyloto where any sort of hip-hop influences emerge, but it’s done in an even more subtle way than “Paradise.” Rihanna sounds totally different here, unlike anything she’s done, and the combination of her voice with Martin’s is surprising in the best way possible. I think the feeling was mutual around the room; people applauded “Princess of China” more than any other track and none of these dedicated fans seemed put off by Rihanna’s presence – in fact, it was the opposite. This is still a Coldplay song, and Rihanna’s contribution is one that adds not only to the track, but to Mylo Xyloto as a whole. I can’t wait to hear it again.
“Up In Flames,” which debuted at the Austin City Limits taping, is another attention-grabber. It’s slow, with the metronome-style beat, and Martin’s crooning falsetto hitting highs more confidently than he has in years. Following “Princess of China,” the listening crowd got quiet again and there was noticeable sniffling. ”Up In Flames” is gorgeous and emotional in its simplicity, yet it sounds epic in its place on the album. The last two tracks of Mylo Xyloto are also quite noteworthy. ”Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” is an up-tempo track with a memorable ending reminiscent of “Charlie Brown” in styling, and “Up With The Birds” is another slow-burning torch song that completely breaks your heart at the end of the album.
Overall, Mylo Xyloto is bracing and vivid, not overproduced, and balances delicacy and bombast with a steady, assured hand. Coldplay has never been more liberated as a band, even on Viva La Vida where they first dipped into expanding their melodious sound. There’s no sense of that hesitation on MX which sometimes hindered the band in the past, and there are more variations of riffs, more solos, more beats, and more bass than ever before. Martin’s voice has also never sounded more natural and his range never bigger – he sounds terrific throughout. Mylo Xyloto is restless and fast-paced – the type of album that you can absorb listen after listen and hear something new each time. It’s filled with frenetic energy, sonic highs, and heartwrenching ballads; as a loose concept album, it’s absorbing on many levels, and sounds very of-the-moment, something Coldplay has always excelled at.