So here we are, almost eleven years into Coldplay’s discography with Mylo Xyloto — their fifth studio album and follow-up to their massive success, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Last time, we saw a band moving beyond their stripped-down origins and becoming a fully-fledged stadium rock outfit. Musically it was their most adventurous album to date, and it really allowed the entire band to open up as musicians. Tackling everything from reverb-layered anthems, to shoegaze, the band was becoming more expansive in their songwriting. Understandably, if you were a fan of the group during their Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head eras, you might have found the album to be a bit over-dramatic and moving away from a band that was more enjoyable when they were more stripped down. But I’ve always felt it was the culmination of all the music they had made up to that point, but expanded on. It also was a logical progression, seeing as X&Y felt like the band hitting a wall and becoming complacent with their own writing formulas.
There are three problems with Mylo Xyloto. First and foremost, unlike Viva La Vida, they sound far less confident on this album and never seem to fully commit to the style they were aiming for. It’s less adventurous, and at times sounds unsure of itself. Secondly, the album has a questionable tracklist and pacing. Take for instance “Us Against The World.” On its own, it’s a lovely acoustic track, but stylistically and thematically, it makes no sense to have it in between the stadium stomper “Charlie Brown” and interlude “M.M.I.X..” Listening to the album over and over again, I couldn’t help but feel like “Us Against the World” was this random break in the album – when it ended, the album could continue on again. “M.M.I.X.,” being an electronic interlude, actually sounds like it segued “Charlie Brown” to “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.” These pauses in the album can be seen again in “U.F.O” and “Up In Flames.” The return of these slower tracks will probably be welcomed by fans that have been waiting for the band to leave behind the reverb and stadium bravado and go back to a more stripped-down, intimate sound. And while these tracks are also good (with the exception of “Up In Flames”), they really make the album a jarring experience. There is this larger-than-life electronic album somewhere in here, and it never feels realized as the album’s scattershot tracks distract from what could have been an interesting venture for the band. Lastly, the production and mastering on this album is ridiculously loud. It’s not something I like bringing up in reviews, but it just has to be said. It’s such a shame that all the layered sounds on this album are drowned out by how crassly loud this album is. It’s one thing when the album is just too loud, but it’s another when it starts bleeding out the instruments and details of the music.
For all the glaring problems, the album does have its enjoyable moments. First song “Hurts Like Heaven” really bursts with energy and is a perfect blend of electronic and guitar-driven pop. It’s really too bad the rest of the album couldn’t have had this kind of confidence, because it starts the album off on such a great note. “Charlie Brown” is sure to go down as one of Coldplay’s classic tracks, both live and in studio. The song really soars and gets lost in the atmospheric production. “Major Minus,” one of the darkest sounding songs Coldplay have ever put out, has a catchy acoustic riff that builds up along Martin’s distorted vocals, and really explodes with the chorus. “Up With the Birds” is a lovely album closer, as the track breathlessly transitions from being an intimate acoustic number, to a climax of swirling sounds. It’s arguably, one of the best things they have ever done.
But for all these bright moments on the record, tracks like “Princess of China” and “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” come off as missteps with their misguided production choices. I find it hard to imagine “Princess of China” won’t be a massive hit. And to be fair, it’s a really catchy pop song that is tailored to be just that. But the production leaves a lot to be desired and the song trails off on the second half. “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” has an uplifting anthem bursting to get out, but its strings and layered textures are buried in all the distortion. Even “Paradise,” which uses a punchy beat and layered strings, ends up being wasted on an “woah-oh” chorus, something Coldplay has been relying too much on lately. Ironically, some of the better moments on this album are the ones that don’t sound like they even belong on the album (“Us Against the World,” “U.F.O.,” “Up With the Birds”). As someone that has enjoyed Coldplay stepping away from their roots, initially I would have thought songs like these to be a regression. But in an album that doesn’t take any major risks with their current style, these come off as much more sincere and, to be frank, interesting.
Mylo Xyloto, then, is Coldplay playing it safe. For a band that is often charged with being safe and inoffensive, this is this exact opposite of where they want to be. Yet, this is where the album leaves us. Underneath all the jittery electronic production that on the surface might seem like the band is trying something new, it’s really just a facade for some of their most simplistic writing to date. And to some, maybe this is all that should be expected from a band like Coldplay. But as someone that respects them as musicians, and thinks they have genuine talent, I know they are certainly capable of doing much better. While the album is flawed, there is a collection of songs here that will no doubt keep fans happy, and are at their core enjoyable. But ultimately, Mylo Xyloto feels like a mixed bag of ideas that never really comes together.