Coldplay release fifth album Mylo Xyloto on 24 October 24. Here, Niall Doherty gives his first impressions of Chris Martin and co's much-awaited return.
The title track of Coldplay's fifth album is the 40-second soundscape piece that the band began their Glastonbury headline slot with - not to be confused with the Back To The Future theme tune that blared out as they walked on. The instrumentation is pure Brian Eno, the producer's imprint all over the cascading glockenspiels and washed-out guitar lines as the song bleeds into Hurts Like Heaven.
Hurts Like Heaven
The first track proper sets the tone for the rest of Mylo Xyloto, bursting in with an up'n'at'em urgency. The melodies, like the title, are a nod to the '80s heroes they so successfully channeled on A Rush Of Blood To The Head, The Cure and Echo And The Bunnymen's influence looming large as Chris Martin sings like he's in a hurry; "I'm strangled with the feeling that my life isn't mine" sings the most brilliantly neurotic man in music, Jonny Buckland's guitars still set to the cosmic sparkle sound of the opener. The chorus - "you use your heart as a weapon/And it hurts like heaven" - is as upliftingly bittersweet as Robert Smith and co's best pop songs, whilst the "whoa oh oh" bridge provides the record's first stadium-singalong moment.
The second single to be released from the album sounds much better in the context of the record - a mid-tempo bridge between the relative surge of Hurts Like Heaven and Charlie Brown. And, if the fuzzy stomp of those hip hop synths jarred with your impression of Coldplay (well, they wouldn't work on Yellow, would they?), then they make perfect sense on Mylo Xyloto as a whole, revisited on the first 30 seconds of Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall and punctuating the Rihanna-assisted hollers of Princess Of China.
The standout from their headline summer slots sounds even monumental on record; Charlie Brown is one of the best things Coldplay have done. Jonny Buckland's hypnotic guitar lines lead the way, the band channeling Joshua Tree-era, the heady holler-alongs of Arcade Fire and a teeny bit of Sigur Ros stargazing as the song launches into its adrenaline-veined climax. While the music is wonderfully overblown, Chris Martin keeps the vocals cool and calculated, singing of "taking the car downtown to where the lost boys meet", which might be about nipping to Spar on Hampstead High Street, but probably isn't.
Us Against The World
Forever destined to be known as The One They Fucked Up At Glasto, Us Against The World begins with delayed patterns of guitar and a lone church organ, before stripping back to just Chris Martin and his acoustic. Its approach sums up what makes Mylo Xyloto ticks; its production is far from stripped-down, but, unlike the X&Y and the do-you-know-what-it-is-yet-cos-we-don't mishmash of Viva La Vida, everything here is a servant to the melody. And, five tracks in, the melodies are some of their best; here, Chris Martin whispers "slow it down" as an orchestral swell builds around him. Just when you think it's going to embark on a Fix You-esque outro, it finishes, perfectly.
Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall is deigned to be a sufficient enough centre-piece of the album that it warrants its own intro - so, M.M.I.X, a sort of sister to the opening track, is a minute-long electronica drone. It's almost as if Brian Eno had something to do with this record or something.
Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall
Much like the best songs on Mylo Xyloto, Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall is dominated by Jonny Buckland's intricate, epic guitars - Buckland takes a starring role on their fifth album. It's his playing that seems to summon the best from his colleagues - Martin has rarely sung better than he does when Every Teardrop... cascades into its hug-yer-mate outro, Guy Berryman and Will Champion now resembling a rhythm section driving the songs rather than filling in the gaps.
Beginning with the jagged strum of a detuned acoustic guitar, Major Minus sounds like the bitter flipside of God Put A Smile On Your Face. Chris Martin's vocals sounding like they were recorded in a seedy phonebox, the "they got one eye on the road/ And one on you" chorus delivered amidst guitar shards and a kinetic percussive groove. One of the most immediate songs on the album, and the most darkly playful thing they've done since Daylight.
Harking back to the title track of their debut album, U.F.O is a melancholic interlude, Chris Martin's acoustic plucks joined by the swirl of strings halfway through, resembling a more saccharine take on Radiohead's Faust Arp. The escapism-themed lyrics ("let's fly/ split the sky...") explain the title, just in case you were wondering if Chris Martin was about to grow a beard and start picketing outside Area 51 with Robbie Williams.
Princess Of China
It would've been ridiculous to suggest in the giddy two-hour heyday of stool-rock that its latest pretenders would belining up the biggest r'n'b star on the planet for a duet on their record - but Coldplay are a long way from 2001, accordingly, Rihanna's appearance on Princess Of China doesn't jar like it would if she popped up on the chorus of Don't Panic. They make her feel at home; Princess Of China is decorated with r'n'b flourishes from the syncopated march of the drums to the bulldozing synths. Jonny Buckland's guitar takes a backseat - well, it's Rihanna, you would wouldn't you? - but this offers a tantalizing glimpse of where Coldplay could go next.
Up In Flames
Beginning with a reverbed, Massive Attack-esque drum sample before a plaintive piano motif and Chris Martin's hand-on-heart vocals, Up In Flames puts Coldplay back in well-traversed ballad territory. The chorus - Martin repeating the title over and over in an echo-chamber falsetto - suggests that the days of autopilot Coldplay are over, beautifully simple and using the melody as its dynamic. Again, just when you think it might take off, it ends. Coldplay have learned to make their point a little more succinctly. Stunning.
A Hopeful Transmission
The third interlude of the album veers from the electronic thrum of Mylo Xyloto and M.X.I.X, instead opting for a lush string coda, underpinned by what sounds like, umm, someone playing the spoons in the background.
Don't Let It Break Your Heart
A sister-track to Every Teardrop... in the way its driven by stop-start rhythm of the drums and the way Martin forms an indelible hook out of the wall of sound sonic avalanches around him, Don't Let It Break Your Heart is one of Mylo Xyloto's most straightforward songs, a precursor, ala A Rush Of Blood...'s A Whisper, before a final bombastic blow-out?
Up With The Birds
Well, not really no, because final song Up With The Birds avoids the clichéd overblown ending, its brilliance, like much of Mylo Xyloto, hidden within the places the songs don't go. "The birds, they sang at break of day/ Start again, I hear them say", sings Chris Martin over stark piano chords at the beginning, before an almost overwhelming burst of strings come to the fore. Then, the whole thing stops and starts again, before strummed acoustic guitars and gentle, almost lackadaisically-played drums usher the album to a peaceful, calming close.
@niallmdoherty Get Q305, out 25 October, for our review of Mylo Xyloto
5:10 PM | 10/10/2011
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