Mylo Xyloto: Britain's biggest band sound more alive than ever (Q Magazine)
On July 8th, 2011, the final historic flight of Nasa's space shuttle program scorched a hole through the clouds on its way to the International Space Station orbiting some 200-odd miles above our planet. The following morning, as requested by pilot Doug Hurley, the crew were awoken by Coldplay's Viva la Vida broadcast by Mission Control. (Houston, we have a chorus.) And lo, the band who could, if they wished, statistically claim to being "the biggest in the world" based on that song's parent album's ranking as the most "paid-for downloaded" LP of all time, finally transcended mortal concerns, now echoing in a tin can suspended above our insignificant pale blue dot among an incomprehensively vast cosmos, momentarily the biggest band both of this world and beyond it...
There really is no overstating, denying or ignoring how humongous Coldplay have become. Globally, they've sold more than 50 million albums, which is tough bananas for those clinging to last decade's long-redundant cliche that Coldplay are criminally boring bastards belching out mediocre snore-pop as part of an evil conspiracy to keep the ignorant masses in a permanent state of shelf-stacking drudgery. (That's right, cynics, Coldplay are so radioactively dull they attract Sturmbannfuhrers of Straightsville as Brian Eno and Jay-Z). Because, even if, just supposing, it all ended tomorrow, Coldplay's permanent plinth has already been erected as one of the most successful guitar bands, British or otherwise, in pop history.
Mylo Xyloto - a "deliberately" nonsensical title, if not one letter over the worst contestant's choice in the history of Countdown -suggests it isn't going to end tomorrow. Or next week, or next year, or in the next five years. Whether it's statistically possible for Coldplay to get any bigger than they are now, (perhaps only in billion-grossing touring turns, lagging behind long-toothed enormodome veterans U2 and The Rolling Stones), their fifth album will, at the bare minimum, safely sustain their imperial position for a long time to come. Because the reasons Coldplay are already beloved by millions - instantly memorable tunes dappled with Technicolor, plain words delivered in such a way as to rattle the human extremes of love and loss - are here sharpened to higher definition than ever before. If in the past Coldplay have been misconstrued, possibly even by themselves, as at Tesco-friendly Radiohead, from the opening "can you hear the drums, Fernando?" skirl of the title "track" (one of three short connecting instrumentals), Mylo Xyloto hammers home the punchline that Coldplay have for some time been the new ABBA: the People's band for whom notions of rock'n'roll or indie "cool" no longer apply.
Running with the euphoric Baton crafted by Viva la Vida (the song), studio boffins Eno and Markus Dravs have spared nothing here in the way of sonic stardust. Every line from Chris Martin, the erstwhile vicar of pop, purrs with Confucian wisdom (even when his voice ribbets to comical Lee Martin Wandrin' Star depths on the stirring lover' hymn Us Against The World). The trustworthy piano/guitar axis of "Oldplay" here budges up for effervescent synths and Disney strings spiralling ever heavenwards, the closing Up With The Birds softly cooing like the stratosphere made music. Johnny Buckland's riffs twinkle and flare like meteor showers, never giddier than the skipping instrumental hook of the addictive Charlie Brown. And the wealth of phones-aloft singalong "woah-oh" choruses on hand - notably current single Paradise (a-made-for-TV trophy-raising/"you've got four yes's" mega-hit) and the thumping Rhianna-assisted Princess of China (as world-beating a collaboration as Eminem's Love The Way You Lie) - teeters on the cusp of absurd.
These are the delirious fireworks that first dazzle, but only because of the clarity and deceptive simplicity of the songwriting beneath. Martin's insistence that Mylo Xyloto is a "concept album" carries some narrative weight, from the resilient angst of the opening '80s Bratpack rocker Hurts Like Heaven via the fighting spirit of Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall to the penultimate crescendo-heavy survivor's anthem Don't Let It Break Your Heart. Yet the best of these are self-contained gems; the electric Gypsy raggle-taggle of Major Minus (Buckland's trebly solo out-edging The Edge), even the exquisite Tim Hardin-esque acoustic breather UFO. The number one jaw-clunker, though, is Up In Flames. As great a tune as they've ever written, it hovers on a lushly melancholic plain between Elton John's Song For Guy and the heart-collapsing falsetto of Bon Iver, the ultimate "it's over" ballad conjuring divine beauty from diabolical bereavement.
Against the kind of commercial expectation few bands are ever privileged to suffer, the 21st-century ABBA have delivered an album, which in its flawless magic, its overwhelming melodic might, could well be the work future generations champion as Coldplay's touchstone. With NASA's space shuttle program now retired it's unlikely their sound will again be vibrating in low orbit any time soon. But listening to Mylo Xyloto highlights what a sorry loss that is.
Music this uplifting, this inspirational, belongs among the stars.