You can accuse [artist id="1111141"]Coldplay[/artist] of being many things — mawkish, maudlin, bland, boring, grandiose, geeky, preachy, polished, M.O.R., A.O.R., E.L.O. — and more often than not, their (countless) critics do just that. You cannot, however, accuse them of being subtle. Not ever.
That's OK, though. None of the hugest bands on the planet (the U2s, Linkin Parks, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.) are practiced in the art of subtlety. It is simply not in their nature. Instead, they deal in universal themes, paint with the broadest of brushstrokes. That is, one could reasonably assume, at least partially why they are so popular: They make music that is massive and, of course, for the masses.
I mention all that not to slag Coldplay, a band I actually like very much, but to A) point out that they have never focused on the smaller aspects of life (their first hit, "Yellow," opened with the line, "Look at the stars/ Look how they shine for you," and even their most delicate singles — stuff like "The Scientist" and "Fix You" and "Clocks" — could casually be described as "arena-size") and B) to defuse any and all criticisms of their latest album, Mylo Xyloto, which is very fine indeed but is not in any conceivable way a subtle thing.
And, again, that's just fine with me. My favorite thing about Coldplay has always been their willingness to experiment, to push the boundaries of what a (very) major-label rock band can and should do. They work with Brian Eno (who is credited with "Enoxification and additional composition" on Xyloto) Jay-Z and Jon Hopkins; they put Baudot Code on their album covers; and they are constantly, occasionally frustratingly, trying very hard to be overly complex. Sometimes, like on 2008's Viva la Vida, they try to do too much, which dulls the impact of their tunes. On Xyloto, due Tuesday (October 18), that is not the case.
This is precision-honed Coldplay, which seems like an odd thing to say about a vaguely conceptual album that spans 14 tracks and features more electronic wallop than a dozen Creamfields, more skyward guitars than a million planetarium shows and more vocal chants than a season at Old Trafford. Oh, and Rihanna too. And yet, it all works. The biggest moments, like "Paradise," "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall," "Princess of China" (that's the RiRi track) and "Don't Let It Break Your Heart," pile each of those elements on with aplomb, and the results are gloriously giddy and appropriately anthemic. The several musical interludes on the disc show the Eno influence, each mercury-slick and slipstream shiny (they also serve as excellent onramps to those bigger tunes). And the few quiet moments on Xyloto, like the acoustic "U.F.O." and album-closing "Up With the Birds," draw maximum emotional impact out of minimal dynamic (and, as all quiet songs should be, are genuinely pretty too).
Of course, Mylo Xyloto is also Coldplay's most electronic album, a fact that may bother some of their more centrist fans. But it's also their most adventurous, their most gigantic and, at least in terms of both of those things, their most impactful. And that, in and of itself, sets it far apart from most of the other major-label rock albums released this year, or any year. You can continue to criticize them all you want, but that just means you've never listened to their albums. With Xyloto, Coldplay have pulled off the rather impossible feat of expanding their repertoire while, at the same time, honing their focus. And that's a lot more difficult to pull off than subtlety, whether you're the smallest band in the world or the biggest.
What do you think of Coldplay's new music? Let us know in the comments!