Mylo Xyloto is the best release by a popular mainstream act this year. Let me rephrase that. Mylo Xyloto isn’t even close to having competition for being the best release by a popular mainstream act this year. When the album was announced, Coldplay fans were given the impression that it would be a more intimate record than the world-influenced and deeply layered Viva La Vida. While that record was wildly successful, there was some comfort to be found in the thought of a more personal Coldplay, perhaps similar to the closing of “Violet Hill,” one of the most effective moments of their last release. Instead, the lead singles showed the band reaching for an even bigger sound with help from synthesizers and huge choruses, leaving the supposed intimacy for other parts of the record. While it might not have been what was expected of them, Mylo Xyloto ultimately finds Coldplay building from elements of their previous records to write their best album yet.
After the album’s titular introduction, “Hurts Like Heaven” builds forward with tons of energy and sees the band exploring somewhat new textures, in a far cry from the promise of intimacy some hoped for. Single “Paradise” follows with a greater focus on melody as the instrumentation takes the sounds of Viva La Vida and manages to bring them to a completely new level of intensity, transporting listeners into another world. The restraint shown when vocalist Chris Martin begins singing allows for his story to truly shine, as the second statement of the chorus gives the dream of paradise some life, making the dream seem to be reality. The string parts and bridge are very effective, and the hook is massive. “Charlie Brown” comes as yet another anthemic track, if somewhat more forgettable than the two preceding it, save for the final line of the chorus, when Martin sings “we’ll be glowing in the dark” and the music drops low, allowing for the imagery to sink in.
The last portion of “Charlie Brown” offers an introspective piano part and serves as a good transition into “Us Against The World,” the album’s first low-key track. With only acoustic guitar and Martin’s voice for a large part of the song, it has a folky feel to it and is reminiscent of certain parts of Parachutes. I particularly like the way that you can hear fingers on the guitar strings and the minor imperfection in Martin’s voice as he goes for the low notes a little more than two minutes in. In a world where popular music has become so carefully cleansed to aid perfection, these are the things that give music an endearing feel and create an element of reality even amid the larger concept of the album. The lyrics are relatable and the harmonies have a very warm feel. When the band said this album would be more intimate, this is exactly what I imagined.
After the brief interlude and deep breath of “M.M.I.X.,” previously released tracks “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” and “Major Minus” find their place in the middle of the album. The former is one of the frontrunners for my favorite song of the year, and the latter is sure to become one of the band’s most popular live tracks. “U.F.O.” follows in a vein similar to “Us Against The World” and, while short, is another good reprieve from the upbeat hooks and intensity of most of the other tracks, adding balance to the record as it leads into “Princess Of China,” a song featuring Rihanna that is sure to become a monster hit once it reaches the airwaves. Though the verses aren’t what you might expect from the combination, the chorus and post-chorus are very powerful, as is the “you really hurt me” lyrical motif that fills the final minute of the track. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed Rihanna’s voice as much as I do here, and it complements Martin’s perfectly, sounding less like a guest appearance and more like something that should have always been included. It’s easy to get lost in the song, and I mean that in the best way possible.
“Up In Flames” is the biggest misstep of the record, in that it seems to lack the “it” factor to bring the song to the level of being memorable in a positive sense. I can appreciate the piano flourishes and guitar parts that play a small part later in the track, but the repetitive drum beat and chorus just bring everything else down. An even more stripped-down approach would have greatly benefited this song. Following the album’s final interlude, “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” and “Up With The Birds” close out the record. The former fits well with the anthems of the album’s first half, though is perhaps more settled and seems to have shaken the nervousness Martin expressed in “Hurts Like Heaven.” The latter is an atmospheric track that closes with a guitar-driven singalong and beautiful piano outro. Neither song is written to be a single, but they work very well in the scope of the record and, like “U.F.O.,” both give Mylo Xyloto a good balance.
In today’s world, it would have been easy for Coldplay to phone in this record, to write two or three massive singles and fill the rest of the album with generic filler. This record would have sold well either way. Instead, they took elements from their past and expanded upon them, creating new sounds and focusing on writing a complete album. Somehow, they made those massive singles flow with more restrained tracks and wrote instrumental interludes to create a piece that is at once unified and diverse. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t completely follow through with the hints of more intimate sounds, because what they gave us was the best of both worlds, with powerful hooks and the warmth of quieter pieces tied together under the umbrella of heartfelt songwriting.