"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Age OCTOBER 22, 2011 - by Craig Mathieson
SONGS RUN COLD
THE most frustrating thing about Mylo Xyloto, the fifth studio album by Coldplay, is its shiny adequacy. Crossing various divides, whether it's between the acoustic and the electronic or their early humility and more recent wanderlust, these songs bounce from extreme to extreme but on closer inspection the grand dimensions are often prosaic. There are tracks here sizeable enough to fill a stadium but the soul is another matter.
The record can't quite escape the shadow of its outstanding predecessor, 2008's Viva La Vida, which now has to be considered a radical mutation rather than an enduring step up. An eclectic tour de force that shattered Coldplay's stoic muscularity, Viva La Vida was the first Coldplay album to focus on a specific space, placing London at the centre of a psychogeography defined by ghosts memories.
On Mylo Xyloto the English quartet - vocalist Chris Martin, bassist Guy Berryman, guitarist Jonny Buckland and drummer Will Champion - return to their universal constructs, where ripened sentiment too often replaces detail. Martin once had a talent for reducing the grand to the personal but here he's more comfortable with the broadly generic. "We'll run wild," promises Charlie Brown and these songs are certainly in a rush to acquire deliverance.
Brian Eno, who helped facilitate Viva La Vida, is credited with the oblique act of "enoxification" and with three other producers credited (including his former assistant Markus Dravs), it's easy to hear his influence on the periphery in the form of the soundscapes that dot the record and the contemplative synths that open songs but are usually overtaken by Berryman's plunging bass and bright, sweeping keyboard parts.
The album's interest in electronic music allows for some interesting, if uncohesive, gambits. Paradise pivots on the kind of twisted bass synth that hip-hop favours, although it resolves itself with a guitar part of viscous immensity, while Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall backs its defiance with the kind of thumping backbeat with which David Guetta has had a succession of hit singles.
Various hints have been dropped that suggest Mylo Xyloto is a concept record, specifically a love affair in a dystopic future, but this is hardly 1984 or The Road. "They got one eye watching you," Martin declares on the rippling Major Minus but he barely adds to his vague warning and the song is basically an Edge-like guitar part, alternately crunchy and stratospheric, in search of a worthwhile song.
The outlook described here is closer to the angst-bound outlook of the adolescent - dramatic but unencumbered by experience or reality. The world is figuratively ending in these songs because a first love has foundered. Salvation, Martin suggests, is actually a matter of retreating to your bedroom and finding the right song; "I turn the music up, I got my records on / I shut the world outside 'til the light comes on," says Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.
That's a sweet, if hardly original, sentiment and it sums up a record where Coldplay coax platitudes into worthwhile shape. By the closing bracket of Don't Let It Break Your Heart and Up With The Birds, Martin is straining at the bit to emote, while the arrangements gallop towards the horizon. They're playing as if they've won a hard-fought triumph but it's difficult to identify anything truly at stake on Mylo Xyloto.