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In a music world commercially dominated by pop singers, rappers and country artists, Coldplay is one of the rare modern superstar acts that actually is a rock band. But for a group as patently inoffensive as Coldplay, it's earned an impressive number of "haters." Many rock fans dismiss its music as milquetoast, and even The New York Times once called Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade." Me? I give the group credit for writing excellent, arena-scale power ballads, one of which was covered recently by Willie Nelson in a Chipotle campaign.
On its last album, Coldplay wisely enlisted Brian Eno, famous for his work with Talking Heads and Coldplay's role-models-turned-rivals U2. Eno made Viva La Vida sound great, even if singer-songwriter Chris Martin's war-themed sing-alongs dodged the opportunity to actually say something. With Coldplay's new album, Mylo Xyloto, Eno is back onboard — more as a fifth band member, it seems, than a producer. Martin's lyrics are back on topic: love, sorrow, generically empathic emotional struggle. But the music has a surprising tension.
I can't really imagine Martin "taking a car downtown where the lost boys meet," as he sings in "Charlie Brown," but I like that Bruce Springsteen parking-lot drama. That's new to Coldplay's bag of tricks. Collaboration also seems to be a new tactic, as the group features reigning pop diva Rihanna in "Princess of China." I like how this record mixes ginormous pop spectacle with Coldplay's knack for melody and Eno's knack for sonic nuance — qualities you rarely hear in the same package.
Coldplay, of course, wants to appeal to everybody — an impulse that reaches hilarious new heights in "Hurts Like Heaven," which crams together caffeinated dance-rock beats, acoustic strumming, multiple flavors of guitar solos, uplifting choruses and a robo-style vocal breakdown.
Mylo Xyloto doesn't revolve around Coldplay's usual midtempo, earworm piano ballads. Instead, it has the front-to-back musical arc of an old-fashioned LP, and its throw-everything-against-the-wall approach makes it more fun than any of the group's previous records. It may not win over all those haters, but that shouldn't stop it from selling a gazillion copies.