This is probably the first Coldplay album I’ve ever put under any real scrutiny. I’ve normally liked most of their singles, even loved a few, but buying any of the albums has always been more of a case of me feeling like I should own them instead of being particularly excited by the prospect. Actually I think I’ve sold them off now, so that just goes to show.
Anyway, I liked the new sound of the lead single and thought I’d give this one a bash. Can’t say it’s really opened my eyes to new depths of excitement, the album itself is a bit of a bore. It’s nice enough to have on my headphones at work while I’m slaving over a spreadsheet, but that’s about it. And now I’m going to spend the best part of an hour doing a track-by-track review! How fun for us all! So get that Swiss Roll bowl cake out of the fridge and we’ll begin.
08 Mylo Xyloto – One of three little interludes between tracks. They are quite lush and orchestral, this in particular is a lovely lead-in to the first proper track.
08 Hurts like heaven – Now why wasn’t this the second single after the terminally dull Paradise? Lovely fast tempo that sounds pretty different from the singles they’ve released so far. Chris’s voice struggles to get his usual range across when he’s singing so fast, but the song’s really quite sweet and bouncy. A real highlight and a grand opening for the album.
06 Paradise – Ugh, nearly 5 minutes of this? Well I think that after touring, Coldplay’s next biggest source of revenue is in selling inoffensive soundbeds for TV programmes, and they certainly haven’t changed that particular business model. The backing music itself is probably the best bit about it, the lyrics and the singing are just beyond lazy. Tedious nursery rhyme nonsense that I just can’t get my head around as an album-launching single. Just repeat the title over and over and a few “Ohhh-whooaaa” bits thrown in, this isn’t the Kaiser Chiefs you know, this isn’t 2005 when you could get away with this sort of rubbish. Annoyingly, the song itself is too inoffensive for me to hate it that much, but I could at least have been spared this as a single.
06 Charlie Brown – I love the whole Peanuts gang, so this should be a treat. Humph. At least they are getting the long tracks out of the way at the start. I just can’t really get into this. It sounds like a Coldplay song, but where is that little key element that makes it work? I’m not sure what that element is, maybe something as unsubtle as a quiet bit leading into a dramatic third-act (perfect for big reveal moments on reality TV, FYI). It picks up a little bit in the middle, and it has that memorable guitar riff, but I’m not there. It’s like seeing a mock-up TV show on in the background of another TV show. It’s faked to look like the real thing, but it’s just a hollow papier-mache version to fill a space.
07 Us against the world – OK this feels more familiar, more reminiscent of the acoustic moments I most associated with the Parachutes era. Maybe I should listen to more of their albums, maybe they were always like this, and I’m just being unfair. Oh lord, he really can’t hit that bottom note can he? “It’s us…. against the worrrrld *croak*”. It’s a nice change though, it’s quite sweet, and 4 minutes is just enough.
05 M.M.I.X. – Ooh a secret code! Is it 2009 in roman numerals? Or does it stand for “My mum is X-rated”? Or a combination of roman numerals and binary? (give me a minute). 18.104.22.168? Oh I don’t know, it’s finished now. It was just an interlude, probably doesn’t need that much thought. NOTHING HAPPENS.
09 Every tear is a waterfall – Now THIS is what go me into this in the first place. I LOVE that synthy intro, just everything about this production. It’s not a signpost of their change in direction judging by the rest of the album, but an interesting new single for them. They should have just released the album straight after this, and certainly not buggered around with the iTunes release. Anyway, it’s not quite up there with their big singles, but it came along at the right time for me. I think I was a bit low, and this had a great sense of optimism and warmth to it that really did something for me at the time.
07 Major Minus – This is a bit of a drag, but at least memorable. Again reminds me a bit of the Parachutes album (quite dim memories now), and they are going for something a little bit rockier, though it still keeps one foot firmly in the middle ground. I don’t really like his vocals on this, but at least I remember it. They seem to be fitting a lot of other album track titles into the songs don’t they, that’s the second one I’ve picked up on and I zone out of the lyrics a lot of the time. A bit too strained and rackety for me, but it’s got something about it.
07 U.F.O. – Another short one, but a proper song. Sort of, sounds like it’s been recorded in a large cupboard at times. At first glance a bit of a non-eventful acoustic number, but the string section fades in halfway through and it picks up quite nicely. It’s still a bit featureless, but again his vocals are quite gentle and it’s easy enough to listen to.
09 Princess of China – Hmm, not enough singles? Just do what everyone else does, and get a Rihanna guest vocal. They’ve done plenty of unexpected hook-ups in the past (or moreso than your average indie band), so this doesn’t feel too strange. But time to break out the exciting production finally, and it’s got all the hallmarks of a “big duet”. They work well together (though I’m not 100% sure they ever met), and as expected I prefer Rihanna’s parts on the track. That fizzy synthy bit sounds great, I wish they’d gone a bit more synthy on this album, I think it would be a good fit. Get this single out now, you idiots!
05 Up in flames – Oh that was a lot of excitement, let’s have a nice sit down and go back to something more sedate. Zzzzz. Yeah this really does plumb the depths of boredom for me, that chorus treads the line of boring and annoying, and in that sense it doesn’t really matter what side they end up on. I don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of this one, just too dull. His vocals are in good form at least.
07 A hopeful transmission – Final interlude now, and a bit of a samba-influenced lead-in to a completely unrelated song. A little muted somehow, but still quite nice.
06 Don’t let it break your heart – Hits the ground running with a crash of drums, a flash of lights (etc.), and eventually settles into a nice uptempo number. Not quite as uptempo as Hurts Like Heaven, but I appreciate the effort. The chorus gets drowned out in cymbals sadly, which puts paid to it feeling like anything other than an album track. It feels like it’s perpetually building up to something, but never really works out where. It’s fine, that’s about it.
07 Up with the birds – Another acoustic claustrophobic intro (can I coin the term Claustrocoustic? Just sounds good, and it’s not even on Google). Nice enough, and fills in a bit with some echoey churchy production, before a weird intermission halfway though with what is presumably meant to be birds. The second half is quite pleasant, considering the album had pretty much run out of steam by this point. It’s not particularly catchy, but at least it’s going out with a … well not a bang, but not a whimper either.
OK for my first real examination of a Coldplay album I’m not too impressed. I’m sure if you are into this sort of sound, there is plenty you’ll like, but for such a well-defined band, a lot of the tracks just feel like there is either too much or too little going on. The busier tracks just have a blurry mess of instrumentation, it’s like some sort of uniform Coldplay noise instead of drums & guitars & other.
I’m not sure if this is a bad one to start with, or if they have peaked, or what. I’m still tempted to listen to Viva La Vida given the stronger singles, but I’m in no rush. As for their lower sales for this album (so far), firstly it’s easy to write off an album if it fails to measure up to its predecessors, but Coldplay have had plenty of enormous album sales, was it really likely they could keep it up forever? I think it’s as much down to mismanagement of the album campaign than anything; Paradise is NOT a launch song. Get Princess of China out with an expensive video and hope you didn’t leave it too late.
Keepers for the iPod: Hurts like heaven, Every tear is a waterfall, Princess of China