Coldplay really like to pack a lot into their music these days. Polyrhythmic, multi-instrumental, wall-of-found-sound pomp came to define them on their last album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, and now they've added eurodance blasts of synth chords and a Rihanna cameo, too.
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It's all a long way from that first image of the fey young Chris Martin stumbling along a rain-soaked beach singing the gentle breakthrough hit Yellow.
Martin's voice remains as damp as ever - that's something that will never change, even if the notes are more on the money and the falsetto more ready to soar - but the almost relentlessly upbeat energy of the band's new album, Mylo Xyloto, gives him plenty of opportunity to expand beyond his trademark adenoidal geekiness.
With this album, the band sought to create a concept album about a love story set in a dystopian future full of optimistically rebellious "kids", for whom music will change the world. That the band are in their mid-30s and more than a decade into their career matters little because, after all, kids will always "turn my music up" and put their records on, as the single Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall has it. That song in particular is all very earnest and slightly jittery, like an overenthusiastic teenager with a juddery leg, and those world-music cross-rhythms and the rising melody build atmosphere in just the way Coldplay fans like it, to an anthemic climax. Add a sort of twiddly Celtic reel descant on Jonny Buckland's guitar and Bob's your uncle: a palpable Coldplay hit.
Luckily, not everything on the album is so predictable. Paradise's loping beat and uplifting, almost tribal, wordless chants are begging for a Jay-Z remix with a slow-mo video set in a desert and a few explosions (the actual video is a rather sweet, tragicomic tale of an elephant who runs away from the London Zoo to find its bandmates in South Africa). But Coldplay, like writers too wedded to their thesauri, are unable to leave a chord just as it is, and with each repeat of the verse they introduce alternative harmonies and orchestrations. It's sophisticated, sometimes too sophisticated, though the dogged repetitions of those irresistible hooks do make it work.
Brian Eno's inclusion in the writing team for the album, adding what Coldplay call "enoxification", is evident in all the bubbly, echoey soundscapes, though the big surprise of the album is, of course, the Rihanna track, Princess of China. Combining a chart-friendly electro-synth sound and teen-friendly lyrics ("You stole my star, la la la la laaaa", and so on) with a melody in a pentatonic minor key - a classic folk mode familiar from Ireland to China - it is possibly the perfect song to help them achieve world domination - if they haven't already got there. The brilliantly catchy Charlie Brown will help, too.
Good for them, I suppose, but what they gain in bombast they lose in heart: the slow tracks, such as UFO, are perfectly pleasant acoustic experiences, but could use the sinuous tension of their earlier work, not to mention a bit more of Buckland's heartbreaking guitar.
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