In the three years since Coldplay’s last album, the world’s problems have gotten a little more urgent. A cratering economy, riots from Tahrir to Tottenham, the prolonged ubiquity of the Kardashians – these are things that can’t be solved with a lullaby, even from the biggest band to emerge in the 21st century. Chris Martin knows this. But Coldplay’s fifth album – and most ambitious yet – suggests Martin cares too much not to at least try to help.
Coldplay recently entered their second decade together – the same point Springsteen made Born in the U.S.A. and U2 made Achtung Baby – so it comes as no surprise they’d want a zeitgeist-y, big-statement album of their own. On Mylo Xyloto, the choruses are bigger, the textures grander, the optimism more optimistic. It’s a bear-hug record for a bear-market world.
Aided again by Brian Eno, Coldplay are still dabbling in the kind of cool-weird artiness they truly went for on 2008’s Viva La Vida. But where that album sometimes seemed like a self-conscious attempt to diversify their sound, with a world-music vibe and U2-style sound effects, this time Coldplay have integrated the “Enoxification” (as they call it) into their own down-the-middle core: Check out the cascading choral vocals that augment Martin’s soaring refrain on “Paradise.” Prominent elements prop up the sonic cathedrals: Jonny Buckland’s guitar, which is riffier and more muscular than ever, and Euro-house synths that wouldn’t sound out of place at a nightclub in Ibiza.
Martin says Mylo Xyloto was inspired by 1970s New York graffiti and the Nazi-resistance movement known as the White Rose – it’s probably no coincidence both were about young people embracing art in times of turmoil. Here, Coldplay rage in their own lovably goofy way. On the rave-tinged “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” Martin imagines a revolution powered by dancing kids. “Hurts Like Heaven” might be the first Coldplay tune to which you can bust something resembling a move. The lyrics seem to be about fighting the Man – “Don’t let ’em take control!” – but Martin sounds ebullient over a sproingy New Wave beat.
Explicit political statements aren’t really Martin’s thing; he’s in the uplift business. Mylo Xyloto suggests he’s fully embraced his role as a not-terribly-cool guy who’s good at preaching perseverance, in a voice that’s warm and milky like afternoon tea. By the time he croons, “Don’t let it break your heart!” over “Where the Streets Have No Name”-style guitar sparkle near the album’s end, you can’t help but think he’s an inspiration peddler who believes what he’s belting.
Oddly enough, the best moments are darker ones. “Princess of China” is a ballad about loss and regret, co-starring Rihanna. It’s a partnership that probably came together over champagne brunch at Jay-Z’s, but its synth-fuzz groove is offhandedly seductive. It’s followed by “Up in Flames,” a minimalist slow jam. Martin sings nakedly about how breakups can feel like the end of the world, or maybe it’s about the actual end of the world. Either way, as end-times lullabies go, it’s pretty sweet.