When Chris Martin admitted the other week that he doesn’t make his kids, Apple and Moses, listen to Coldplay at home, it was the latest in an endless line of self-lacerating mumbles. It was typical of a man who consistently reminds us that names, as well as sticks and stones, can hurt. ‘Yellow’ might have been the colour that made them but, says the chatter of the blogosphere, it’s magnolia that has sustained them. It’s a charge they’re familiar with: even at the beginning (and by this writer) they were dismissed as the less-interesting Starsailor.
So from the moment they reached their nexus as the planet’s biggest band, they’ve spent the whole time apologising for themselves. They addressed all this last time round, with ‘Viva La Vida, Or Death And All His Friends’, turning up dressed as Vivienne Westwood supply teachers from the French Revolution and roping in Brian Eno on whirrs and vwoops. These were only ever surface upgrades, because the truth is that [a]Coldplay[/a] have always been a far better proposition in practice than they ever were in theory.
But it would appear those doubts still niggle – they’ve pulled off a similar stunt this time, with a zany colour scheme, a daring teaser track (not a single, remember) in ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’, and a nonsense title – the rationale for the latter being that once upon a time ‘Google’ was just a nonsense word as well. And by accidentally making such a heroically grandiose claim, Martin has opened up the vital contradiction at the heart of [a]Coldplay[/a]. See, his latter-day lyrical fixation with knights and royalty and regalia might not be quite as incongruous as it seems.
The truth is that [a]Coldplay[/a] could rule. If nobody was excited at the prospect of them headlining Glasto again, up against [a]U2[/a] and [a]Beyoncé[/a], anyone who saw the performance would find it hard to deny that they stole the whole weekend (well, at least until those thighs advanced). With a preternatural knack for melody and one of the most deranged, charismatic frontmen of the modern age, they’re only ever let down only by an unfortunate default setting that reads ‘retreat back into plodding, mid-paced conservatism’. It’s like they really, really do want to be Neu!, but they just can’t bring themselves to quite shake off all those Waitrose parents who buy their records in their millions. That’s hardly a hangable flaw, but neither is it one that ‘Mylo Xyloto’ does anything to resolve.
So there are moments of daring hubris. Eno’s said whirrs and vwoops drench everything. ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ kicks things off with a caffeinated anxiety that’s almost post-punk. ‘Major Minus’ occasionally threatens to erupt into a grunge anthem. And if you’re going to have a mid-paced [a]Coldplay[/a]-by-numbers single-single, you may as well have one as grand and gorgeous as ‘Paradise’.
But far, far too many of the songs – ‘Us Against The World’, ‘A Hopeful Transmission’, ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’ – are as cruelly magnolia as anything else in their catalogue. On the vague and hypnotic ‘Princess Of China’, [a]Rihanna[/a] once again proves that badass and fabulous as she is on her own records, she’s hopelessly uncompelling on other people’s. And, most crucially, there’s no stand-out song as magnificent as ‘Viva La Vida’ itself, which saved the day last time.
There’s nothing wrong as such with ‘Mylo Xyloto’. It just feels like, once again, [a]Coldplay[/a] have done the selfless thing and gone out to protect EMI’s share price, and at the end of it remain peering off the edge of a cliff edge, wishing they had the courage to jump.