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Album review: Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

23 Oct

I used to think Chris Martin was a soft student spokesperson for a new wave of indie music at the end of the nineties. Full of smiles, jokes and flawless interviews, he seemed to be the antithesis of everything Liam Gallagher stood for. I thought he had removed the rebellious heart and soul of rock and roll and stuck a giant Habitat display cushion in its place and I hated him for it.

I was, of course, jealous. I grew up in the same city as Chris Martin and watched the rise and rise of Coldplay through breakthrough album Parachutes, a collection of songs I initially dismissed as break up songs for middle class girls and bed wetting boys. A year later, I realised what a landmark album Parachutes was and every Coldplay album since has needed intense listening to decipher the euphoric layers of piano, strings and guitars that sit on top of simple, confessional lyrics that you can instantly get behind. X&Y may have been a Coldplay album which playfully sampled Kraftwerk and flirted with pop but Mylo Xyloto starts dancing on the way to the stage and waves a banner which reads ‘TUNE!’ before the music starts.

Mylo Xyloto arrives in blur of synth, beats and trippy tunes which are so pop, it’s like walking into G.A.Y when you meant to pop into Starbucks. It’s the biggest change for Coldplay in a decade and debut single Every Teardrop is A Waterfall is so catchy, it finally gives Chris Martin a valid reason to pogo around the stage and pause to shag his piano in time to the strobe lighting. Every Teardrop is a Waterfall is a sparkling European rave with squealing riffs and widescreen lyrics about cathedrals and waterfalls. It is to pop what Grammy-winning Clocks was to rock, twisting the epic dial to 11. The new Coldplay uniform of day glo basketball boots and paint splattered jeans reminds us of Jeremy Clarkson shopping in Shoreditch with Gok Wan but we can get over this because Coldplay have never been fashion icons to anyone.

New uniform aside, adding modern pop flourishes to the Coldplay template sounds terrifying. On paper, Coldplay going pop prompts fears of a Chris Martin fronting a Genesis style tribute band, waving glow sticks above a Yankee baseball cap propelled by a giant bottle of fair trade poppers while Jay Z moonwalks in time to Yellow. Thankfully the reality is different. We’ve been given pop that isn’t fronted by Biebers, Chipmunks or Playboy models at a foam party and pop that’s so easy to love, it will enter your iPod as easily as your dad’s Christmas stocking.

The Mylo Xyloto style of pop is fresh and original and hasn’t been overshadowed by the presence of Rihanna who guests on Princess of China and, free of auto tuned tweaks, sounds like a natural siren against a wall of synths. There’s snatches of samples you might expect Kanye West to offer Jay Z on a plate but for every hip hop sample, there’s a Coldplay chorus or cascading orchestra of pop which always takes centre stage, creating a strand of pop DNA undiscovered by Swedish dance producers, Lady Gaga or Calvin Harris.

At times, even the riffs on Mylo Xyloto go a bit pop: Major Minus begins as an aggressive acoustic strum before the whoop and thrust dance-rock fusion of Primal Scream arrives, evolving into shimmering U2 guitars. It’s the song that stunned Glastonbury 2011 and pissed on the fire that fellow headliner Bono tried to create for U2.

For all the epic and wholesale gobbling of the pop pill, it’s not all stadium bands that are influences on Mylo Xyloto. There’s short nods towards The Gossip’s brand of electrostatic lesbo stomp rock, Charlie Brown contains traces of The Gaslight Anthem and Up With The Birds sounds like a prayer which could have been made by any unsigned indie band. Hurts like Heaven starts with the frantic skip and finger clicks of Vampire Weekend or Jack Penate before hollow lyrics and a confusion of oriental riffs and familiar Coldplay chord structures turn sour. It’s a combo that falls flat next to the headline pop anthems which make up most of the album. Paradise is custom built for stadiums and festivals and sits on the face of traditional Coldplay acoustic songs, smothering the fragile, Parachutes-era Us Against The World.

Coldplay are always going to have an equal mix of lovers and haters but Mylo Xyloto is a great album. Surprisingly, Mylo Xyloto manages to bring back pop to everyone and isn’t fronted by auto tuned, factory farmed jailbait on an endlessly repeating X Factor conveyor belt. Coldplay have elbowed their way into the pop party and shared the love, producing original pop classics which, whatever your view of the band, deserves applause and, maybe, just maybe, a token wave of a glow stick.



9 Aug

humbug cover

When the Arctic Monkeys play live, they do everything wrong. They’re shy, play their biggest hit as an opener and close on a slow moving, depressing track like 505. Faced with legions of cardigan wearing hipsters and laddish Britpop fans, they play Warren G or Public Enemy before taking to the stage with a drummer that is dressed exclusively by JD Sports. All of these things, combined with the impossible politeness of Alex Turner, go against any traditional template for rock success. But, against all odds, it works and for a band with the live power of Oasis and the kind of uniquely British lyrics unseen since The Smiths split, a new album is as exciting as any live event.

Humbug is an album that between skeletal bass and twisted, imaginary gloom manages to pull out anthem after anthem. Whether it’s the kind of spitting, brooding angst of Pretty Visitors or Cornerstone, a waltzy love song, all tracks have giant choruses and the required sing-along potential for the current tour circuit of arenas and festivals. More than before, vocals are pushed forward, perhaps after Turner found his softer voice by inventing The Last Shadow Puppets and becoming skilled in the ways of the croon. Or perhaps it’s because Queens of The Stone Age main man Josh Homme produced seven of the ten tracks on Humbug. Put against the wall beside the band, rock slab Homme looks every inch the greasy redneck biker who has come to steal the children and bury them in the desert. Instead, he’s helped the band add scale to their tales. This album wasn’t written in a lonely bar while casting imaginary characters in Sheffield soap opera songs and it shows.

Homme’s trademark heavy drone is everywhere and for every bass blowout, there’s the familiar jangle and rapid riff attack from Turner. On My Propeller, the song is driven down, constantly descending until the chorus drags the song out of depression and back to the kind of sunshine indie that you’d expect from Ash. It’s a weird mix and one that only works because the band are as open to new ideas as anyone. On paper it reads like Dave Grohl lending Morrissey a hand but on record, it makes perfect sense. Just as fellow Queens of The Stone age guitarist Dean Fertita joins The Dead Weather to release Horehound, similar traces of the Homme/Queens of The Stone Age influence can be found on those songs. A couple wouldn’t feel out of place on Humbug, which shows how diverse and versatile the Arctic Monkeys really are.

First single Crying Lighting is a star spangled psychedelic run through the strange subjects that Turner can transform into songs in minutes. Like the first album, songs are often narratives but narratives in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas instead of traditional songs about Sheffield or ‘cuddles in the kitchen to get things of the ground’. Put that Mardy Bum lyric beside ‘make a mess lioness’ from Dangerous Animals and you’ll see swaggering, primal confidence replacing the embarrassed idea of fronting a rock band. This is the Arctic Monkeys album that demands a bigger stage and a giant band to fill it. Happily, that’s just what Turner and friends have become, without actually noticing it themselves.