THE last time they released an album, Coldplay adopted designer military chic, a Frida Kahlo-inspired title and artwork by Eugene Delacroix. Didn’t they realise that all anyone really wanted from them was another anthem they could merrily sing along with while brandishing their iPhone (and preferably without a lyric they would have to remember)?
Fortunately, Coldplay delivered on that occasion with a title track, Viva La Vida, which ranked among their very best, boasting a solid tune, a soaring “wo-oh” hookline and a slightly bonkers lyric to conjure with.
There is nothing of its calibre on their fifth album, not even a feeble imitation from a band who are reasonably adept at recycling their best ideas. Instead, Coldplay continue to amuse themselves with would-be enigmatic window dressing. Mylo Xyloto is being presented as a concept album, telling a love story about two characters who meet against a backdrop of gang culture in some dystopian cityscape, get together, fall apart and achieve some kind of redemption as the end credits roll.
Inspiration came, it says here, from old-school hip-hop graffiti and the White Rose Movement, a group of student martyrs killed for their peaceful resistance to the Third Reich. Nice esoteric effort, guys, but can you sing along at the top of your voice to any of it?
And what of the crazy title? The names of the protagonists, perhaps? Or just a bash at DIY lexicography?
The band have “elucidated” with some baloney about musical digits, “xylo toes” as it were, which sounds like a tour bus joke taken too far or a group with way too much latitude to indulge themselves.
Although he has not produced this album, Brian Eno is back on the team to provide what the band like to call “Enoxification” (enough, already). What this amounts to is his expert hand in guiding another streamlined MOR missile, delivering mildly stirring uplift and vacuous wonderment aplenty, spliced from the best bits of two albums – one acoustic, one electronic – which the band were toying with releasing.
The finished article is patched together glossily with brief instrumental teasers forming connective tissue, tracks melting into each other in a continuous flow, chords spilling from one number into the next, and titles cropping up as lyrics in other songs. But it’s all basically the same old underwhelming arena anthems.
Hurts Like Heaven is a pacey little mover, dispatched with a relatively light touch. It feels a little flimsy but, in retrospect, proves to be one of the album’s stronger tracks. Chris Martin does that thing he does on the chorus, putting a singalong spin on the nonsensical turn of phrase “you use your heart as a weapon, and it hurts like heaven”, where the bewildering latter half of the line is given some implied context by the first half (compare Fix You’s “lights will guide you home and ignite your bones”).
Having introduced the yang, the yin first makes an appearance on recent single Paradise, a typically insipid piece of airy-fairy escapism straight off the Coldplay production line, where it has been fitted with shimmering, epic keyboards, a hint of Celtic sentimentality in the arrangement and a wordless chant written with stadium, festival or football audiences in mind.
Dreary navel-gazing ballad Us Against the World is the album’s love theme but it fails to summon the romantic exclusivity and air-punching invincibility suggested by its title.
The rockier Major Minus has marginally more edge – or perhaps that should be more Edge, given the debt Jonny Buckland owes to the U2 axeman. In contrast, U.F.O. is a folky front porch number, which starts out in traditional gospel-blues territory, before ambling off into oblique allusions.
There are a couple of attempts to get with the contemporary pop programme. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall samples its trancey backing from an Argentine dance hit Ritmo De La Noche, which is itself based on the piano riff from Peter Allen’s cheesy 1970s number I Go To Rio. Martin tops this with a mantra-like vocal and a club-friendly lyric about losing yourself in music and your own headspace.
And then there’s the guest spot. You just know it’s not going to be good news for our young couple when Rihanna, no stranger to a formulaic heartbreak ballad, pops up to duet on Princess of China, but the tune, the emotion and the point remain elusive.
Martin musters more injured vulnerability on the simple ballad Up In Flames as he picks over the wreckage of the relationship hoping for something to salvage.
This whole venture being calculated to appeal to the masses, there has to be a happy ending, and their closing credits number Up With The Birds, which lifts the opening lines from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, is all synthetic celestiality which, like the rest of the album delivers more anaesthetic than aesthetic.
Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto