Coldplay – “Princess of China”
Mylo Xyloto is a strange mix of sincere reflection and aesthetic pleasure. It marks Coldplay’s fifth studio album, and the second in their quest to transform into an electronic-tinged pop outfit. But unlike the launching-off point, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, which only dabbled in this new direction, there is a conflict present in Mylo Xyloto occurring from a desire to combine old aspirations with new, splitting it down the middle, its lack of consistency making it feel as haphazard as a lucky dip.
The first type of song on Mylo Xyloto is the dance-pop anthem. Many of these feel over produced, and in some cases the techniques used are inexplicable, lending nothing of value to the essence of the track. For instance, the intro to ‘Charlie Brown’, in which Chris Martin’s vocals are sped up to create the sound of a singing hamster, comes across as inadvertently comical. Disappointingly, even the current single, ‘Paradise’, falls short for the same reason – it does indeed have the most bombastic arrangement on the album, and the most memorable chorus, but it seems this directly leads Martin to take shortcuts with the lyrics. Aside from them being very thin on the ground, Martin is withholding his best efforts, slipping into comfortable clichés: “when she was just a girl, she expected the world but it flew away from her reach, so she ran away in her sleep”. ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’ also fails in its pop ambitions – it strives to replicate Black Eyed Peas’ ‘I Gotta Feeling’, but lacks the sufficient hook-heavy chorus to give it the same staying power. Instead, the song rests on guitarist Johnny Buckland’s over-complicated, jarring guitar riff. This is one of the biggest faults with Mylo Xyloto: if you want to take the dance-pop route, you need the dance-pop chorus.
Two exceptions are ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ and ‘Princess of China’. In the former, the band manages to blend its alternative rock roots with its new dance-pop ambitions, and the result is a song as satisfyingly upbeat as The Cure’s ‘Close To Me’. ‘Princess of China’ is a pitch-perfect pop gem, lightening striking in the form of a guest vocal provided by the princess of pop, Rihanna. Coldplay provide a song that mimics her style expertly, blending the edginess of Jay Z’s ‘Run This Town’ with the wistfulness of Rihanna’s own ‘What’s My Name?’. In return, Rihanna lends the band her pop credentials and charismatic vocals, making the song both believable and catchy.
Aside from these, the most interesting songs on the album are the most stripped down. This is the other type of song present on Mylo Xyloto, a type that harks back to the calmer songs of Coldplay’s second and third albums, A Rush Of Blood To The Head and X & Y. Unlike ‘Paradise’, these slow acoustic songs cannot be carried by overbearing production, and in ‘Us Against The World’ and ‘U.F.O.’, Martin is required to carefully consider his lyrics and pack them tightly together. The latter is reminiscent of X & Y’s highlight ‘Til Kingdom Come’ – Chris Martin, letting down his guard, is at his most earnest and spiritual. More of this vulnerability could have elevated the album, but the band eventually slips back into over-zealous production techniques. Album closer, ‘Up With The Birds’, begins with the promise of Patrick Watson-esque delicacy, but multiple layers of strings and reverb quickly and completely swamp Martin’s vocals.
It is admirable that the band want to evolve, to explore other avenues, but they still have some way to go before they can sound truly comfortable. Currently, their sound too faithfully reflects the transition period they are in, and Mylo Xyloto is fraught with growing pains. Coldplay certainly understands the theory behind the dance-pop anthem, but if they truly want to fit in, if they want to bridge the divide between old fans and new, they will have to execute it more consistently.