Coldplay front man Chris Martin recently said that the phrase “Mylo Xyloto” is meaningless. They purposely wanted a title that brings no meaning to it, as if to start with a clean slate. In a sense, the title is perfect. It’s a jumbled, nonsensical title for a jumbled, nonsensical album. “Mylo Xyloto” finds the band appearing to flirt with the new electronic sounds they explored on their previous album, “Viva la Vida,” yet they come off as strangely unconfident, and unsure of what they want to sound like.
The opening instrumental track and “Hurts Like Heaven” start the album strong with signs that the band truly wants to try new things. “Hurts Like Heaven” is an irresistible pop track in which the band enlists the help of legendary English musician/producer Brian Eno. Eno’s synthesizers carry the breezy Cure-like melody, and the song builds excitement for the rest of the album. Tracks like “Charlie Brown” and “Paradise” also impress, blending refreshing electronic beats with a grand sound.
That said, “Mylo Xyloto” quickly takes an unfortunate turn. One issue prevalent with the band as of late has been their misguided attempts at writing extravagant songs without any apparent understanding of what makes a song epic to begin with. An extravagant song is not about length, falsetto hums or variety of instruments; it requires emotional force and presence, two things Coldplay lacks here. For instance, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” sounds like it has all the ingredients for a big, anthemic build-up, yet its lyrics are completely hollow and nonsensical. It often feels like Chris Martin cuts and pastes lyrics littered with clichés from different songs into one, just settling on whatever goes best with the melody. Coldplay wants their music to sound important, but here it seems they have nothing to say.
It becomes clear that Martin has put songwriting to the side in favor of trying out as many different sounds as possible. “Princess of China” features a random guest appearance by Rihanna. However, rather than infusing a new sense of pop and R&B the band was going for, the track just sounds awkward and ultimately forgettable. There is no doubt it is tailor-made for the radio however, and it will likely become a hit.
At their best and most genuine, Coldplay can craft truly wonderful music, such as past hits like “The Scientist” and “In My Place.” They take many stabs at straightforward ballads on this album, yet they all fail to leave any impressions. Tracks like “Up With the Birds,” “Us Against the World” and “U.F.O.” sound utterly contrived and by the numbers, and give off the forced sense of melancholy that plagues so much of the band’s discography.
Coldplay have developed a knack for throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. “Mylo Xyloto” is the culmination of that. When something does stick, it sounds great. More often than not though, it just doesn’t work. Every time the band sounds like they’re moving one step forward, they stumble two steps back. “Mylo Xyloto” shows glimmers of what could have been if Coldplay had the guts to truly progress their sound. The result though is mostly a half-baked, sloppy effort bogged down by the band’s frustrating inability to fully commit to coming out of their comfort zone.