Some albums are good at grabbing you right at the first listen, but get relegated to backup status quickly. Others seem merely passable, before repeated listens draw you in to the details. Albums like Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction” or The Shins’ “Oh, Inverted World” come to mind as albums that initially sounded little more than “pretty good” to me, but now I list as all-time faves. Sure, we’re only a week removed from the release of Coldplay’s fifth album, but I’m happy to say it’s grown with every listen.
The Coldplay on “Mylo Xyloto” is not entirely indistinguishable from the Coldplay of “Parachutes”, but it sure is getting close. Save for a couple restrained moments, like “Us Against the World” or “Up in Flames”, the mellow melancholy that defined Coldplay is mostly gone. Brian Eno’s production has clearly led Coldplay to explore new arenas. But while evolving sound may lead bands to depart from who they are, “Mylo Xyloto” finds Coldplay tinkering/progressing while still sounding like Coldplay.
Where third album “X&Y” is practically universally acknowledged as being Coldplay’s most poppy album, it’s actually this album that brings the most obvious pop song concept: a collaboration with Rihanna. I’m wagering that opinions about that concept must be wide-ranging, with some cringing at the idea and others excitedly paying 99 cents for it. But frankly, put together with the electro of “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and the wonderful guitar-driven elements of “Major Minus”, the idea seems daring and well-placed and, most importantly, well-executed.
What I most liked about this album is the depth of some of the songs. Save for the immediate satisfaction that “Paradise” offers, many of the other tracks get better with time as they reveal their details (I submit other listeners may hear these things the first time, but I can only share my experiences). On “Charlie Brown” it’s the guitar line that backs the song and on “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” it is the pulsating kick drum. On “Princess of China”, the aforementioned Rihanna collab, there’s a distant keyboard that comes in at the 2 minute mark, and on “Up in Flames”, an otherwise softy is kicked off with a surprising bass. Guitar work is particularly strong on this album as well, backing the upbeat and soaring “Don’t Let it Break Your Heart”. “Major Minus” is marked by a stellar combination of acoustic guitar and electric guitar, but don’t forget to notice the subtle piano that creeps in at 1:05. Details give the songs a depth that, if you’re not careful, you can miss if you quickly dismiss them.
But you know, sometimes you just want some vintage Coldplay. The kind that, if you’re my age, takes you back to age 17. For me that song is the closer, “Up With the Birds”. Save for a couple fantastic experimental touches, the song is a throwback: soft beginning building to a soaring ending that is probably pure magic live.
Through some weird twists of fate, Coldplay has become one of the most divisive bands in the world: too indie for some popsters, and too pop for some hipsters, yet somehow they might be the biggest and most consistent band in the world. Time will tell how the world perceives “Mylo Xyloto”, but I for one am liking it more and more with every listen.