Coldplay’s long shadow of success stretches across continents, musical genres, and over a decade of multiplatinum albums. As it enters a second decade the band again teams up with musician/arranger/composer Brian Eno who helped produce Coldplay’s 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. This time round he’s credited with “enoxification and additional composition.” (Enoxification is a term that I assume may reference the famed producer Enoch Light, renowned for this superb studio work in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s). The band also employs a trio of top-rate producers, Marcus Dravs, Daniel Green, and Rik Simpson, to round out the sound.
While Viva La Vida expanded Coldplay’s sound, moving the band into new sonic territory with bombastic production and grand themes, Chris Martin has stressed that Mylo Xyloto features a more acoustic approach to the music. Depending on which song you’re listening to, you may or may not agree with that assessment. However, there is no question about the grand intent of the album’s theme. The concept of a future dystopia where young lovers struggle against the system far surpasses the theme of its predecessor. Martin has mentioned a number of inspirations for this including New York’s street writers of the 1970’s, to American graffiti artists of the 1980s to HBO’s dark dramatic series “The Wire.” The resulting work is a song cycle that traces “a love story in a big, dark, scary city.”
Mylo Xyloto opens with the instrumental interlude –the title track – which sets the atmosphere with its moderately futuristic implications. Rolling into the second track, the music erupts into pulsating pop rhythms and dense guitar riffs vaguely reminiscent of Edge’s work on Achtung Baby. “Hurts Like Heaven” introduces the characters, young urban residents who are ready to fight the powers of darkness, who use their hearts “like weapons/and it feels like heaven.” Martin’s lyrics never get too heavy; he’s way too much of an optimist to succumb to the obliteration of the soul. The album’s song cycle isn’t linear nor is Martin’s lyrics explicitly in storytelling mode. The drama is yours to interpret. However, the music, loaded with big happy hooks is easy to slide into. “Paradise” with its multi-layered chorus and bulging string arrangements is already a massive hit.
Getting back to the acoustic roots of Mylo Xyloto, there are moments when Martin’s vocals are paired only with acoustic guitar but they are fleeting. Massive sheets of gleaming production rushes in, stealing attention away from those subtle moments of serenity, small islands in the ocean of pop/rock. “Us Against the World” is one of the rare exceptions when you can hear the bare bones of the song. There’s enough melody and drama to carry this album to the top of the charts. As for cross over to new audiences, it doesn’t hurt to have Rihanna chime in on “Princess of China,” an extremely accessible song for the masses.