Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay always makes me feel good. As I have posted before, Coldplay is my favorite contemporary band. Essentially, they have evolved into a nice blend of indie spunk with enough pop undertones to make them a mega-band. But, that’s not why I like them. I like them because their music always makes me feel good.

Coldplay began with a powerful and popular debut album in 2000 and continued through the turn of the century and a great follow-up in 2002 which, in turn, was followed by a really great live CD/DVD combo. They are formula-matic in their own style, which blends many influences. Mostly, however, Coldplay’s music is filled with teen/young-adult angst and dreams and desires and melancholia, ensconced with an energetic, young at heart passion for living.

After giant-selling albums in 2005 and 2008 and strong, sold-out worldwide tours, the band had difficulty giving birth to Mylo Xyloto, only their fifth studio album. Coldplay is not a very prolific band but their music is always top quality even if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty high hopes created with band’s first CD releases.

Whenever I get any new album I often like to listen to it repeatedly. Alone and listening intently. Or while doing chores as background music. Or playing certain songs for Jennifer or my friends. I usually research the artist and the production values that went into creating the album. My latest Coldplay CD immersion is no different.

Coldplay is composed of guys who are really interested in exploring music artistically. While they are not diverse enough to ‘recreate’ themselves with every effort, they have settled into their own unique sound and feel. With Mylo Xyloto they wanted to do something different. They wanted it to be a “concept” album.

I am really appreciative of concept albums. The work of Pink Floyd (of course), my all-time favorite rock band, produced a string of awesome concept albums throughout the 1970’s. But, that said, the concept on Mylo Xyloto is not very sophisticated nor it is put together well from that perspective.

To be successful a concept album has to have some repeating patterns, lyrics or musical fragments or repeated studio effects to help ground the theme of the concept with the listener’s enjoyment. Mylo Xyloto has no such grounding. For that reason it feels like any other Coldplay album’s decent collection and mix of songs. The central story of the album has to be gathered through lyrics that can only be found online. Lyrics are not included with the CD’s booklet or packaging.

Regardless, Mylo Xyloto is still a worthy effort featuring many very entertaining and highly listenable songs. Hurts Like Heaven sets the pace for some of the album’s passion and force, though it is not a particularly extraordinary song. Just very comfortable Coldplay. This is followed by Paradise which features some classical strings before transforming itself into heavily synthesized club music piece. One of the album's best tunes. Charlie Brown chases this, again a solid, authoritatively authentic song.

Us Against the World is a fairly typical teenage-mind view of innocent love. It’s you and me babe, alone together in the moment. Definitely been there several times before, but – as is the case throughout this album – the Coldplay sound is that great combination of a poetic, polished, and emotionally evocative music. A ballad in this case. Slow it down. A very nice piece to listen to. Wonderful lyrics.

Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall turns out to be the most commercial, most manufactured-in-the-studio-like piece on this "more electronic" Coldplay album. Which is not a bad thing at all. Neither is it a surprise, being the pre-released single off the album. It has a great rolling wave and beat that shifts up and up, the positive energy of Coldplay. A dance tune with a great, towering guitar rift and whole-band intensity. Four guys jamming.

Major Minus is my favorite song on the album. While it is distinctly in the Coldplay style (heavily influenced by U2, among others) it steps out a bit more than the other tunes. It features a techno-rock twang combined nicely with rhythm acoustic guitar and a touch of piano. Definitely a tune firmly established in alt-rock roots. Thumbing, vibing, punkish at times. Totally acoustical guitar and piano alternating with a raucous electric guitar leading a heavy bass-driving beat. Very nice.

UFO is another acoustical piece featuring the lyrics and lyrical voice of the brilliantly talented Chris Martin. But, this short song gives way to the electro-pop Princess of China. This is a more grooving dance song, featuring a superb female vocal accompaniment by Rhianna. I just wish that when Rhianna and Martin sing together at the end of the song you could hear them harmonize better together. Instead, the vocals are largely overwhelmed by the band’s loud forceful playing, which sounds great but crowds the vocals too much.

I really get in to Rhianna’s vocals as this mildly hip-hop tune cranks up the album again only to quickly shift back down with Up in Flames. This is a good example of where the “concept” nature of the album doesn’t work so well. The album feels too disjointed throughout this stretch of three or four tunes. Still highly listenable just not well connected.

Things come together again nicely with Don’t Let It Break Your Heart. We are back to a familiar wall of Coldplay sound, pressing relentlessly, somewhat carefree and open, forward. This is followed by Up with the Birds. Not a strong finish for the album, but perhaps fitting it that it is a nice song to listen to. A kind of optimistic anthem with a nice, free and open acoustic piano conclusion.

Released just three weeks ago, this is fresh, new, exciting music by one of the world’s most recognized bands. I am not ashamed that so many enjoy their music. I am definitely one of them and feel lucky to be alive when such music is new and first heard. My life is filled with hundreds of such musical experiences and I hope there are hundreds more to come. New Coldplay is one reason for that hope.

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