Much as they might desire it, Coldplay are never going to record the kind of rock — or even pop — album that music critics want them to record. They’re not Radiohead, Arcade Fire or The Clash. Chris Martin isn’t Win Butler, Guy Garvey or even Damon Albarn. He’s more like the Prince William of songwriters: earnest, privileged, charitable, inscrutable and popular as hell. While his persistently disappointing lyrics clamber into songs like a determined toddler teetering in his mother’s too-big high heels, not even the most vociferous Coldplay detractor can deny that the London quartet knows how to kick out gorgeous, stadium-shuddering anthems, from ‘Clocks’ to ‘Viva La Vida’ to the new and robustly handsome ‘Charlie Brown’ off their fifth album, Mylo Xyloto. Unlike the equally loved-or-reviled U2, who swagger forth with blind confidence despite progressively flagging ideas, you get the sense that the four lads of Coldplay, like the perennial misfits Martin insists they are, just want to be stronger musicians and make people happy during a particularly unhappy time. That’s not a bad thing.
So Mylo Xyloto isn’t Kid A or, despite Martin’s vagaries about it being a ‘concept’ album, even a crescent slice of Dark Side of The Moon. Instead it is a confident, bright, glittering collection of 14 songs that run from the prettily bland (‘Paradise’) to incongruous but competent electro-pop (the Rihanna-whipped ‘Princess of China’) to the genuinely lovely (‘Up In Flames’). Martin, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion have found the perfect collaborator in wise Brian Eno. As he did with U2, Eno guides Coldplay, like a too-eager racehorse, towards the fast track where they’re best — those galloping, supernova sing-a-longs that sound so good at Glastonbury after three days of rain and five pints of cider. The band layers on more echoing guitars, iridescent hooks, ruminative piano and synth-spurred sprints to offset Martin’s greeting-card bromides, falsetto woo-hoos and empty “para-para-paradise” stutters — filling space where better lyrics might have lived.
For all of its inevitable disappointments, Mylo Xyloto might be Coldplay’s most assured album to date, their assiduous answer to The Joshua Tree. The band excels in live performance — their superior Glastonbury 2011 set proved that — and Mylo Xyloto’s rafter-raising, jubilant songs offer an effortless template in how to please a huge audience. For every lousy lyric — “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop” rivals “ignite your bones” from ‘Fix You’ as one of the all-time clunkers — there’s plenty of well-executed moments too: Martin’s patient, soulful vocals and bare-to-the-bone piano on ‘Up in Flames,’ the goofy Peter-Allen-meets-The–Edge excess of ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’, Buckland’s sinewy guitar on ‘Major Minus,’ or the simmering build and fragile dénouement of ‘Charlie Brown.’ Mylo Xyloto isn’t one of the great albums of the year, but it doesn’t really need to be. Its ultimate purpose, given sincere-sounding admonishments like ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart, might be as simple succor for Coldplay’s millions of fans, at an impasse with a fractious, chaotic and economically unstable world.