August 10, 2016 by NowhereButPop
Whereas most albums are content to merely convey music, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto creates an atmosphere that entices and captivates listeners from beginning to end. It’s not just an album that exists to be heard; it can be felt and seen as well. Coldplay’s attempt at creating their own Achtung Baby relies on visuals almost as much as it does on music. All synesthesia aside, Mylo Xyloto sounds like colors; it’s impossible not to listen to any of its 14 tracks without thinking of an exploding cascade of vibrant colors.
It’s no secret that the main themes running throughout Mylo Xyloto are those of creativity and freedom of expression, as the album’s genesis was inspired by New York City graffiti of the 70s and 80s, along with the White Roses movement, which stood against the rise of national socialism in Germany. Both movements used art and expression to revolt against a constrictive institution. Taking their cue, Coldplay decided to adopt colorful art as a springboard to express their new musical direction into the realm of electronica pop. Much in the same way that U2 made the jump from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby, Coldplay seemingly took a wrong turn that, in reality, became the right turn at the right time, as Mylo Xyloto, with it’s extroverted charisma, raucous dance grooves, and intimate extravagance becomes an artistic movement unto itself.
Even though electronica and dance music served as the main musical influence, the band still manages to find a delicate balance between songs that represent this new musical direction, and songs that are more indicative of traditional Coldplay. However, it’s the songs that reflect this new musical shift that prove to be standout cuts; songs like “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”, “Major Minus”, “Hurts like Heaven”, and “Paradise” are some of the best rock songs of the decade so far. On these songs, singer Chris Martin seems to have finally climbed out of whatever abyss he was falling through on Coldplay’s previous four albums, and is now actually singing as opposed to wailing.
The song that best embodies the album is “Princess of China”, a duet (the only such) with Rihanna. Clearly inspired by R&B, and with it’s spastic synth opening, it clearly doesn’t sound like anything Coldplay had ever done until that point. If anything, it sounds more like Chris Martin is guest starring on a Rihanna song instead. Rihanna not only brings her A-game to the track, but also pushes Chris Martin to give one of his most spirited vocal efforts. They sound like jilted lovers telling their story to a grand jury in a fever pitch of heartache and rage. For anyone who knows nothing about Mylo Xyloto, listen to “Princess of China” first as that will tell you everything you need to know about the rest of the album. It’ll suck you right into the rest of the album and leave listeners eager for more.
As far as Coldplay songs go “Major Minus” is another completely experimental song, yet it pays off massive dividends. It’s totally guitar oriented as features both a strong riff and a pretty dynamic solo at the end. Even Chris Martin takes a chance and delivers his vocals through a megaphone to represent a dictator giving demands to his oppressed populace. It’s the hardest rocking song on the album, more evocative of “Behind Blue Eyes” than anything Coldplay has ever done before. “Major Minus” is wild, intense, and manic, and who’d ever thought that a song like that would be befitting of Coldplay?
For all it’s bombast and extravagance, Mylo Xyloto is still an incredibly impassioned and at times, even sensitive, album. “Up in Flames” has its moment where Martin sheepishly and wistfully utters “Can we pour some water on”, “Paradise” is one big beautiful emotional dumping, and “Hurts like Heaven” is a jovial plea that moves at the speed of light. But the album is at its most impassioned, and maybe it’s very best, on “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” where the song closes out with Martin repeatedly shouting with all conviction that “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”. Like most of the album, it’s the concept behind the songs, rather than the songs themselves that prove to have the deepest impact. Every teardrop is a flushing brilliance as heavy and infinite as a waterfall, as in that one single tear encapsulates every single emotion that brought about that tear’s inception. This is essentially how Mylo Xyloto as a creative expression operates. In every song there are remnants of the White Roses, photo-fluorescent graffiti, Achtung Baby, and Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse, which leads to each song functioning as its own universe within a greater lattice of the album itself.
It’s for this reason however, that calling Mylo Xyloto a rock opera is a lot like calling Batman Returns a superhero movie. They might tout themselves as such, but upon close inspection, neither are really what they claim to be. Batman Returns is a Tim Burton movie that just so happens to have Batman in it, while Mylo Xyloto is an album that supposedly tells a coherent story—It doesn’t. From listening to the album alone, no visible plot is discernible; it also doesn’t help that there are no linear notes providing lyrics or a synopsis of the story that the songs are supposed to tell…as is customary for rock operas. Even if there were a story to be told, which according to the band there is, it’s a very poorly crafted story that doesn’t feature any noticeable characters, threat, climax, or resolution, all of which are necessary components of storytelling across any medium. Even though it fails as a rock opera, Mylo Xyloto still sticks the landing, in part because it’s difficult to criticize it for not being a rock opera when there aren’t even any internal hints that what we’re listening to is supposed to tell a story of some kind of Orwellian society.
Mylo Xyloto is a pulse pounding, heartbreaking adventure that blurs the senses and blinds listeners with a strong visualization of the album and its recurring themes. It’s impossible to listen to “Charlie Brown” without envisioning yourself on the “D” train, riding in a graffiti riddled subway car back in 1984. Every song annunciates itself with a kaleidoscopic explosion of color within your mind’s eye. Somehow Coldplay managed to combine electronic pop-rock with street art stretched across various times and places and the ensuing result was nothing more than a delightfully exciting album that breathed new life into a band that sounded as though they were complacent with their identity.