A look at Coldplay’s newest record, Mylo Xyloto, so you don’t have to.
I know the CD’s been out for almost a month now, but I had to wait until my library copy came in. I’m a Coldplay fan the same way that Annie Wilkes was a Paul Sheldon fan. She’d read everything he’d write, but she’d wait for the paperback to come out. So the disc came in for me a few days ago. I popped it in the car stereo, as I normally do with a new disc. It gives me a chance to listen to it to and from work uninterrupted. I’ve gone through it a couple of times now, and here are some of my impressions.
First off: The title.
What the heck is a Mylo Xyloto anyway? Sounds like nobody knows, not even the band. A couple of made-up names to signify a fresh start, we’re told. By the sounds of the big numbers off the CD, it isn’t so much a fresh start as a continuation of the style and success of their previous effort, Viva la Vida, or Death and All his Friends, released in 2008. Title-meaning rumours abound, my favourite being that Mylo is an Egyptian version of “Miley” and Xyloto references the “Tomb of the Kings” located on the island of Cyprus. i.e. its a shout-out to “Miley Cyrus”. You can’t say music critics don’t have an imagination, can you?
Secondly: The track sequencing.
There’s some weird stuff happening on this album. The first “song”, called Mylo Xyloto, is nothing more than a 40 second soundscape, vintage Brian Eno. It then bleeds seamlessly into the first real song of the album, Track 2, “Hurts like Heaven”. The same thing happens two more times on the album. Track 6 “M.M.I.X.” and track 12 “A hopeful transmission” both precede and segue into “Every teardrop is a waterfall” and “Don’t let it break your heart”, respectively. This is fine if you’re listening to the album front to back “as you should, as you should” as the purists will tell us. But all I know is that this will wreak havoc with my iTunes if I want to do a random shuffle or genius mix or something. No one is going to want to have these little snippets appear on their own. They really don’t make sense out of context. Why wasn’t each song that followed just made 30 or 40 seconds longer? Why not just produce separate radio edits if length is an issue? The Starbucks version of “Hurts like Heaven”, thoughtfully procured for me by the fanbase, splits the difference and includes 20 seconds of Mylo Xylotoleeish sounds before the song kicks in, but its all one track. And it’s even inconsistent throughout the album. “Charlie Brown” begins with about 20 seconds of Enoey business before the song starts in earnest, and yet no separate track here. Curious as to why some “Eno bits” get their own name and track and others don’t. It would almost be like as if the organ intro for U2’s “Where the Streets have no name” was its own track, with the real song beginning with Edge’s guitar. Why? I’m going to have to play around with my settings when I stop listening to the entire album. I know, first-world problem.
Third: The Songs
Track sequencing aside, “Hurts like Heaven” with the “Mylo Xyloto” prefix is a perfect album opener, and I’d be surprised if they don’t open every concert with this one. Peppy and bittersweet, it’ll have us up and out of our seats in no time.
“Paradise” is the best song off the album. It’s got a little dance-club vibe to it and a very singable chorus. “Para-para-paradise. Woah-ho-ho-ho-ho!”
“Charlie Brown” had the most interesting title off the album, and it’s sounds the most like the Coldplay we know and love, despite the extra effects.
“Us against the World” falls in the category of “boring, slow Chris Martin with acoustic guitar” type of songs. I don’t hate it, it’ll just take a few more listens before it really even registers. Nice “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” reference part-way through. Even this one doesn’t escape the Eno, though.
“Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall” is a hot mess, but it’ll be an awesome encore or even the perfect closer for this upcoming tour. They give it their all on this one.
“Major Minus” Another kinda forgettable song. I have the feeling that maybe this was a last minute addition, and as a result seems to have the least amount of Eno tinkering than any other song. Bits of it almost sound U2 “Unforgettable Fire” era, so that’s cool.
“U.F.O.” Another “Chris Martin being all sensitive” kind of song. It’s not gonna replace “Fix You”, but it sure as hell gonna try.
“Princess of China”. Hey Rhianna, did you know one of your songs accidently ended up on Coldplay’s newest CD? Someone’s getting fired. Oh wait, this is supposed to be here? Wait, this is actually a Coldplay song? You’re joking right? Next you’re going to tell me Coldplay’s going to do a song with Jay-Z. What? You’re SHITTING me. When did that happen? Is it any good?
“Up in Flames” I like this song if only because it reminds me of something that mid 1980s Peter Gabriel may have actually written and recorded. Sort of a “Mercy Street” meets a slowed down “Red Rain”.
“Don’t let it break your heart” We’re back to peppy, up out of your seats, kind of Coldplay. Has a kind of a U2’s”City of Blinding Lights” feel to it. I’m down with that. Eno works real nicely here. It’s just enough Eno. Like Peter Jackson, who uses CGI only when necessary, this song strikes the perfect balance of real guitars and drums with a balding reclusive genius in a glass booth.
“Up with the Birds” Nice little seemless segueway into this song from the previous one. Unfortunately it’s one more look at “sensitive Chris Martin” but this time on piano. The peppy middle section is lovely, but the whole track is slathered with so much Eno, I wish we could get an “Enoless” version of this song and entire album, actually. Let the people decide!
Finally: A Word about Eno
Brian Eno, superstar producer, founding member of Roxy Music, and all-around good guy, has left his fingerprints on virtually every track of this album. It sometimes gets so distracting that I wish I could invent a time-machine, bust into the recording studio last summer when Coldplay was recording and yell “Get your hands off the mixer, muthafucka!”, but of course that’s absurd. Where would I get the stuff for a time-machine? While Eno has no doubt contributed valuable input in the making of classics like David Bowie’s “Heroes” and much of U2’s brilliance over the last 25 years, here there’s almost a feeling that it’s a little too much. You could almost call this album, “The Brian Eno Art Experiment, with special guests Coldplay and Rhianna”. It would make a hell of a better title than “Miley Cyrus”, that’s fo’ sho’.