With the end of REM, there are few epic bands left on the music landscape. The Rolling Stones are on hiatus and U2 still dominates whenever they choose, but really, there are few bands are on their level. Coldplay is one of those few bands that like U2, REM, and the Stones, transcend music and enter immediately into popular culture upon the release of a new record or the beginning of a tour.
The release of Mylo Xyloto is the latest epic release from the youngest of those few transcendent, epic bands in the world and it is an exceptional example of why I have declared Coldplay epic. This concept record is a mind-blowing mix of genre and storytelling that is both classically Coldplay and yet fresh and innovative.
We begin with a brief interlude called Mylo Xyloto which plays as if the band is warming up. We are then thrust into track one, Hurts Like Heaven, which sets the scene of the dystopian, sci-fi love story that Chris Martin will narrate throughout Mylo Xyloto.
Hurts Like Heaven paints the beginning of a romance between two people trapped in a paranoid future world where they are being watched, monitored and controlled but through an unexpected love affair, freedom is discovered. Using their heart as weapon, it hurts like heaven; the force of god through love being brought to bear upon a cold and controlling society; heady stuff for a pop song.
Paradise, the first single off of Mylo Xyloto, begins slowly before introducing a driving synth piano mix. As Chris Martin’s vocal drift in, he begins telling us a story about a woman who dreams of Paradise. The story is about a girl who grows to be a woman and sees the world trying to break her spirit. In her dreams however, she can still see Paradise. The wall of sound, synth and electric guitar, and Chris Martin’s ethereal repetition of the chorus are truly gorgeous and you can’t help but sway along as you listen.
The title of the next track, Charlie Brown, is a little mystifying but the point and purpose of the song is unmistakable. This is the soundtrack of freedom as our hero escapes to a place which is out of the sight of the overseers, where “all the boys, all the girls, all that matters in the world will glow in the dark.” Beautiful lyrical imagery melds with a forceful rocking beat that evokes a little U2 and many of the other longtime Coldplay influences.
Us Against the World is an acoustic ballad that urges our lovers to slow it down and take in this moment before the chaos of the world sweeps them up. They will find stability in each other against the raging world around them.
Every Teardrop is a Waterfall follows Us Against the World as a call to revolution through music and emotion. Reading deeply into the lyrics, the tears caused during the revolution against this oppressive society, the one in the song, or against any oppressive society, real or imagined, has the power and force of a waterfall. Every teardrop pushes us forward and makes us stronger and more defiant.
We’ve now bonded our hero and heroine, Mylo and Xyloto, in Us Against the World and defined the forces that are pulling at them, oppressive society versus a revolutionary uprising with their love affair caught in the middle of it all, in Every Teardrop is a Waterfall. Coldplay isn’t messing around with this high concept stuff.
Major Minus is a paranoid fantasy illustrating the rising danger to our couple as they foment revolution and are being watched big brother style. The song combines surging acoustic guitars with a raging electric guitar to paint a sonic portrait of fearful, chaotic energy. The guitar solo near the end is accompanied with what sounds like the wailing of a police siren buried just under the surface of the surging guitars.
U.F.O is the aftermath of the chaos and fear of Major Minus. We begin with twin acoustic guitars before symphonic strings mix in underneath. All the while Chris Martin sings of a difficult and lengthy journey that is taking a toll on our protagonists. There is a sense of alienation throughout that leads perfectly into the bizarre and unexpected soundscape of Princess of China.
Rihanna and Coldplay are a shockingly brilliant combination. Princess of China samples Sigur Ros’s instrumental Takk and the sample casts a pall that underlies the pop R&B synth and guitar and grounds it in an air of sadness, even as it drives toward being danceable. Lyrically, Princess of China is the beginning of the end for our hero and heroine.
The end of Mylo and Xyloto’s love affair becomes official in Up in Flames. Flames are a perfect lyrical reference as the rest of the record illustrates a passionate relationship, amid chaotic circumstances that simply consumed itself. The song is beautifully mournful and Chris Martin’s voice is the star here, beginning soft and thoughtful before taking off into a lilting falsetto and falling back down.
A Hopeful Transmission is a peppy, rousing and brief piece of music that signals a turning point and melts beautifully into the beginning of the next track Don’t Let It Break Your Heart, a surging, classically Coldplay song that will undoubtedly become a single. Don’t Let it Break Your Heart evokes Coldplay’s history in ways that fans will not be able to resist.
Chris Martin’s vocals lay so deeply in the mix on Don’t Let it Break Your Heart that it’s difficult to place the song in the context of the concept story. However, the song plays so joyous and transcendently happy that it can only mean that our lovers have come back together, their love renewed and the fight rejoined.
Don’t Let it Break Your Heart mixes directly into the closing track of this concept record, Up with the Birds. Up with the Birds is victory, for love and revolution. Our lovers have overcome the odds and found one another again. Hopeful reassuring lyrics lay beautifully over a tinkling piano and a joyous mix of electric and acoustic guitar. Up with the Birds is a cathartic breath after a difficult journey fraught with danger, excitement, passion and love.
Mylo Xyloto is a phenomenal record. High concept, big ideas couched in a classic Coldplay sonic experience. The Coldplay wall of sound rolls over you like a wave repeatedly and it’s completely welcome. You are consumed by the sound and carried away by it so much that the sci-fi storytelling aspect of it teases your imagination and you can choose to indulge it as I did and seek the meaning of each song or you can just let it wash over you and just enjoy the sound.