I like Coldplay. Hardly a ringing endorsement, I know, but 2005's bloated and bland X&Y aside, I've never quite understood the levels of criticism constantly aimed their way. It could be a British thing - success in any walk of life in our society is not keenly celebrated. Kids in America growing up are told they have the potential to be the next president; we're told not to get ideas above our station. Coldplay, the bastards, decided they wanted to become one of the biggest bands in the world. They make music for the masses - unabashedly so. I guess that is why I like them: they're not under any illusions; they know what makes them good and they stick to that formula, regardless of the criticism it gets them along the way.
That's not to say they don't try to be different. Every release since Parachutes (2000) has been heralded as a new phase to their sound; a Coldplay you've never heard before. And so is the same with this release, Mylo Xyloto. They've all had a little makeover, adorned the album cover with graffiti and decided to label it a concept album. According to Martin, the album is "based on a love story with a happy ending.", in which two protagonists: Mylo and Xyloto, who are living in an oppressive, dystopian urban environment, meet one another through a gang called "The Lost Boys", and fall in love. All of that is best ignored, because tart it up as they might, deep down (not really that deep) this is standard - which is not to say bad - Coldplay.
Sky-scraping, stadium-filling choruses? Check. U2-aping, chiming guitar riffs? Check. Deep, meaningful, insightful lyrics? Che...well, no, scrap that last one - obviously. Anyone looking for searing social commentary from Martin, five albums in, is clearly missing the point. He's grown to accept that, too. Early on in Coldplay's career, it seemed as though he was forcing the issue a little too much; as though he was looking to be accepted as a great lyrics man. He's not. What Chris Martin excels at is universal platitudes, and making them sound as though they were written for and directed solely at you. For the most part it's empty-meaning fluff - the music surrounding the words on this album more than makes up for it, though.
Take opening song proper, 'Hurts Like Heaven'. "You use your heart like a weapon/ And it hurts like heaven.", goes the chorus - but it's the toe-tapping beat that propels the song. It zips along, over a poppy guitar and piano line, which is sent skyward in the bridge containing nothing more than a few loudly sang "Ooohs". Coldplay at their most 'pop' is a glorious thing to hear. Better still is second single 'Paradise': sweeping strings, handclaps and a gigantic chorus that demands to be heard sung by thousands of people in a field at Glastonbury - it's one of the best and most immediate things they've done. You could try to fight it, but you'd fail. It's a song to get caught up in - to take on the world with - and it couldn't have been anything other than a single.
Anthems and earworms abound throughout the rest of the album, too. 'Charlie Brown' concerns itself with "the kids", "running wild" and "taking cars downtown". So far, so Win Butler. But the Arcade Fire frontman would struggle to write something as grin-inducing as this. Kanye-esque, sped-up soul samples give way to cascading, poppy guitars, with Martin's falsetto reaching for the top its range, sending the song soaring.
Those are just the opening 1-2-3 punch of the album and, somewhat inevitably, it can't quite keep that momentum for the whole running play. Slow, acoustic-plucked 'Us Against The World' is Coldplay by numbers; it seems jarring in comparison to what is surrounding it. Things pick up again with early single 'Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall'. Yes, you do indeed hear the line "I'd rather be a comma than a full stop." - but again, it's backed up by propulsive, multi-coloured beats, that are as impressive as they are endearing.
The album is clearly a bit top-heavy, but the weaker latter half is helped massively with the inclusion of 'Princess Of China' - the band's duet with Rihanna. Rihanna's great - we all know this - but on paper the duet could have been considered a bad move. Martin has had previous forays into the world of black music - see: 'Beach Chair' with Jay-Z and 'Homecoming' with Kanye - with disappointing results. But this time it actually works. It's an epic electro break-up track, which sees Rhi Rhi and Martin trading broken hearted verses. With its heavy synths and booming beats, the whole thing is oddly seductive - further proof that anything Rihanna seems to touch these days turns to gold. Credit to Coldplay for recognising that, being willing to try something different, and getting her on board.
The album ends in a similar vein to their debut, Parachutes. 'Up with the birds' - like 'Everything's Not Lost' - is a slow building, piano led song about hope and looking for a better outcome. In our current times of doom and gloom, it's a little hard to swallow - but as the song builds to a guitar strummed crescendo and Martin sings "A simple plot/ But I know one day/ Good things are coming our way.", you'll at least want to believe that he's right. Thing is, to someone, somewhere in the world, those words will hit; they will find meaning in them and they will use them to put a positive spin on their day - Coldplay will have succeeded in doing what they do best yet again.