3:21pm

Mon October 24, 2011
Pop

Coldplay's 'Mylo Xyloto' Has Mass Appeal

In a music world commercially dominated by pop singers, rappers and country artists, Coldplay is one of the rare modern superstar acts that actually is a rock band. But for a group as patently inoffensive as Coldplay, it's earned an impressive number of "haters." Many rock fans dismiss its music as milquetoast, and even The New York Times once called Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade." Me? I give the group credit for writing excellent, arena-scale power ballads, one of which was covered recently by Willie Nelson in a Chipotle campaign.

On its last album, Coldplay wisely enlisted Brian Eno, famous for his work with Talking Heads and Coldplay's role-models-turned-rivals U2. Eno made Viva La Vida sound great, even if singer-songwriter Chris Martin's war-themed sing-alongs dodged the opportunity to actually say something. With Coldplay's new album, Mylo Xyloto, Eno is back onboard — more as a fifth band member, it seems, than a producer. Martin's lyrics are back on topic: love, sorrow, generically empathic emotional struggle. But the music has a surprising tension.

I can't really imagine Martin "taking a car downtown where the lost boys meet," as he sings in "Charlie Brown," but I like that Bruce Springsteen parking-lot drama. That's new to Coldplay's bag of tricks. Collaboration also seems to be a new tactic, as the group features reigning pop diva Rihanna in "Princess of China." I like how this record mixes ginormous pop spectacle with Coldplay's knack for melody and Eno's knack for sonic nuance — qualities you rarely hear in the same package.

Coldplay, of course, wants to appeal to everybody — an impulse that reaches hilarious new heights in "Hurts Like Heaven," which crams together caffeinated dance-rock beats, acoustic strumming, multiple flavors of guitar solos, uplifting choruses and a robo-style vocal breakdown.

Mylo Xyloto doesn't revolve around Coldplay's usual midtempo, earworm piano ballads. Instead, it has the front-to-back musical arc of an old-fashioned LP, and its throw-everything-against-the-wall approach makes it more fun than any of the group's previous records. It may not win over all those haters, but that shouldn't stop it from selling a gazillion copies.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

In a music world that's dominated commercially by pop singers, rappers and country artists, Coldplay is a rarity, a superstar rock band. The group has just released its fifth record called "Mylo Xyloto." Will Hermes has our review.

WILL HERMES: For a band as patently un-offensive as Coldplay, they've earned an impressive number of haters. Many rock fans dismiss them as milquetoast, and even The New York Times once called them, quote, "The most insufferable band of the decade."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: Me? I give them credit for writing excellent, arena-scale power ballads.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: On their last record, Coldplay smartly enlisted Brian Eno, famous for his work with Talking Heads and with Coldplay's role-models-turned-rivals, U2. Eno made "Viva La Vida" sound great, even if singer Chris Martin's war themed sing-alongs dodged the opportunity to actually say something. With this record, Eno is back on board, more as a fifth band member, it seems, than a producer. And Martin's lyrics are back on topic: love, sorrow, generically empathic emotional struggle. But the music has a surprising tension.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BROWN")

CHRIS MARTIN: (Singing) I stole a key, took a car downtown where the lost boys meet. I took a car downtown and took what they offered me, to set me free. I saw the lights go down at the end of the scene. I saw the lights go down, and they're standing in front of me.

HERMES: OK. I can't really imagine Chris Martin taking a car downtown where the lost boys meet, but I like that Bruce Springsteen parking lot drama. That's new to Coldplay's bag of tricks. And so is this collaboration, the song "Princess of China," which features the pop diva Rihanna.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRINCESS OF CHINA")

RIHANNA: (Singing) I could've been a princess. You'd be a king. Could've had a castle and wore a ring. But no, you let me go. I could've been a princess.

HERMES: I like how this record mixes ginormous pop spectacle with Coldplay's knack for melody and Eno's knack for sonic nuance, qualities you rarely hear in the same package. Coldplay, of course, want to appeal to everybody, an impulse that reaches hilarious heights in "Hurts Like Heaven," which crams together caffeinated dance rock beats, acoustic strumming, multiple flavors of guitar solos, uplifting choruses and a robo-style vocal breakdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HURTS LIKE HEAVEN")

MARTIN: (Singing) I feel a little bit nervous. Yes, I feel nervous, and I cannot relax. How come they're out to get us? How come they're out when they don't know the facts? So on concrete canvas under cover of dark, on concrete canvas, I'll go making my mark. Armed with a spray can soul. I'll be armed with a spray can soul.

HERMES: Coldplay's "Mylo Xyloto," Xyloto, whatever, the album, doesn't revolve around the group's usual midtempo, earworm piano ballads, but it has the front-to-back musical arc of an old-fashioned LP. And its throw-everything-against-the-wall approach makes it more fun than any of the group's previous records. It may not win over the haters, but that shouldn't stop it from selling a gazillion copies.

BLOCK: The new album from Coldplay is "Mylo Xyloto." Our critic Will Hermes is author of the forthcoming book "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERY TEARDROP IS A WATERFALL")

MARTIN: (Singing) I turn the music up. I got my records on. I shut the world outside until the lights come on.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: We have more coming up on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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