But then you have the band that is willing to fall into the background while Chris Martin croons for the swooning masses. You have the one with the naked commercial ambition, churning out hits for the lowest common denominator. You have the group that freely apes successful bands (U2, Radiohead) who have come before them in an effort to achieve musical immortality. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are an optimist), both of these entities rear their heads on the band's fifth studio album, the oddly titled Mylo Xyloto.
The album starts off with a bang, firing to life with the under-one-minute, strings-and-bells title track (they have several of these interludes on the album, which they thankfully make their own tracks instead of tacking them onto the end of other songs), which leads right into "Hurts Like Heaven," an immediately catchy piece of pop-rock with jangly, eccentric guitar work and a more fierce electric churning gamely in the distance. Martin, of course, sounds exceptional on the track, as he does on "Paradise," which starts with dissonant strings and carnival synth before settling into a speaker-crunching beat and swirling atmospherics. The track becomes a little more spare, with piano and light drumming, but it is no less effective, especially during the mammoth chorus. At the peak of its powers, the band writes great songs and, as usual, they have no shortage of memorable passages on this one. The terrific three-song opening concludes with "Charlie Brown" and its intriguing chipmunk vocal opening. The track quickly falls into a swelling guitar blast and a terrific melody of layered acoustic, tambourine, and synth blips.
While there are other standout tracks on Mylo Xyloto (the exhilirating "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" and the more low-key yet technically impressive "Up in Flames" jump immediately to mind), there are several disappointing duds. "Us Against the World" ends the win streak at the top of the full-length with a large thud. The biggest problem is that it pushes Buckland, the band's quiet MVP, to the background, forcing him to wield a frustratingly straight-forward acoustic guitar while Martin belts a sing-songy ditty to the ladies in the front row. It's one of the album's more boring tracks and I absolutely hated the track's prominent chord scratches, which fousounded completely artificial. In the same vein is "U.F.O.," which is luckily only a little over two minutes long.
Probably the most questionable track on the album is likely to be its biggest hit. "Princess of China" (no idea about that title) is a hip-hop influenced cruncher that prominently features pop songstress Rihanna. It has a very cool, fuzzy synth and drums that suggest that Chris Martin might be hoping to appear on Power 99 sometime in the near future. There's no doubting that the song has an awesome beat, however it's tough to shake the idea that the band has ulterior motives on this one. It feels like 50 percent shrewd marketing move and 50 percent Martin just trying to show off his inexplicable Jay-Z-endorsed ghetto pass. Maybe it would have worked better on Rihanna's new album, which, for all I know, it is on.
While there are segments of Mylo Xyloto that suggest that Coldplay is fully capable of creating the great album that they seem oh so hopeful to one day thrust upon the world, there are also parts that fall incredibly flat, leaving the audience to wonder what they would be capable of if they just stopped worrying about their chart position or place in music history.