In a recent Pitchfork interview, Coldplay singer Chris Martin discussed his relationship with Jay-Z, sharing that some people can’t understand why someone as “cool” as Jay would want to be friends with someone as “nerdy” as himself. I know one thing they could definitely bond on – haters. Whether it’s coming from Foo Fighters, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, or critics who can’t get over the U2 aping, moneymaking and/or Paltrow marrying, Martin has to deal with the same petty jealousies as Jay or fellow collaborator Kanye West. But unlike those artists, Coldplay’s stock in trade – huge, starry-eyed love songs with choruses that embrace listeners like teddy bears – doesn’t give him the platform to vent about it.
For now, at least. The band’s fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, finds the group aiming for a more rubbery pop sound, injecting some needed brightness and energy in its brand of moody arena rock. Synths appear as much as pianos; the rhythms have more meat on their bones, and teardrops invariably become waterfalls. It’s an ideal situation for a guest appearance by Rihanna, whose voice winningly intertwines with Martin’s over the soaring synth-pop riffage of “Princess of China.”
You could spin this as a sign of the musical apocalypse if you wanted – a monstrously popular group doing everything it can to sound even more mainstream. But for all of its chart-reaching ambitions, Mylo Xyloto doesn’t sound labored. Martin and his bandmates clearly have an affinity for the trappings of 21st century pop and R&B, and with the help of super-producer Brian Eno, they’ve woven them into their signature sound in subtle yet effective ways – much like U2 did on Achtung Baby. Critics are once again heaping praise upon that album in honor of its 20th birthday, calling it brave, despite the fact that when you took away Bono’s new hair and wardrobe, Achtung was just a tweaked version of the same old formula. It’s a great record, but it has more in common with Mylo Xyloto than U2 fans would probably care to admit.
The reviews are in on MX, and they’re the usual mix of carefully worded praise and straight-up bile. But whether they’re being nice or mean, critics still tend to sound disappointed that Coldplay isn’t an Important Artist, the kind of band that turns fans into apostles for its cause. Which leads to my theory – Coldplay’s biggest problem is that they don’t suck enough. It’s easy to spew hate about Black Eyed Peas or Maroon 5, but those Coldplay choruses are nifty little earworms. They must make it hard on Chris Martin haters, no matter how many clumsy rhymes he forces. So they rage on about how worthless Coldplay is, how they’re an insult to people who “know about music,” how their popularity exposes the ignorance of the general public. Then they catch themselves humming “Paradise,” and the self-flagellation begins.