We never saw this coming. Coldplay, the onetime Radiohead-lite with melancholic melodies that reached to heavens, cheap seats and singles charts, is now the rising hope of album music, if not other (more substantial) things.
“Slow it down,” Chris Martin croons, wiping our brow on the affecting acoustic ballad Us Against the World. “Through chaos as it swirls, it’s just us against the world.”
Chaos swirling – yeah, everybody’s feeling it, from Middle East dictators and record companies on down. And now this hopeful transmission from one of the world’s biggest bands, whose means of uplift have never sounded more sincere than on Mylo Xyloto, an elegant conceptual album of soaring soft rock and pop leanings that plays down (but does not completely abandon) the self-conscious sonic revolution of Viva la Vida.
While Mylo Xyloto was still on the drawing board, Martin foresaw a record marked by less bombast than its Grammy-winning predecessor, the world’s top-selling album of 2008. He also said the title would “probably begin with an M.” Mission accomplished.
Mylo is one of the album’s protagonists, Xyloto being the other, with their love story set in an oppressive future. (This is standard rock-opera stuff; see the Queen-inspired We Will Rock You, The Who’s never-realized Lifehouse project and Styx’s Kilroy Was Here – domo arigato, Mr. Xyloto.)
Matching Mylo and Xyloto dolls may one day be sold in the lobby of a Broadway theatre, is what I mean to say.
Produced by people including Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons) and with “Enoxification” by Brian Eno (Bono’s ears, and the man behind the glass for Viva la Vida), Coldplay’s fifth album begins with a tinkling prelude before jumping into Hurts Like Heaven, a grandiose rush of Police upbeat, with a grimy solo from guitarist Jonny Buckland.
The shape-shifting Paradise swoops and soars with euphoric chants over modern beats, ending with a piano outro to release the tension. Guest singer Rihanna brings her catchy umbrella to Princess of China, a shimmering slice of big pop. Major Minus is funky like Perry Farrell.
There are instrumental interludes.
Every Teardrop is a Waterfall begins with the world’s biggest harpsichord, followed shortly by a hardy acoustic strum. “I turn the music up, I got my records on / from underneath the rubble, sing a rebel song,” halloos Martin. “Don’t want to see another generation drop / I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.”
The song never does leave the verge, though, even with the Sunday Bloody Sunday drum riff at the end – speaking of that rebel song. Coldplay, having studied U2, are keen to carry torches forward.
Up With the Birds, a classic ballad/lullaby, closes the affair lushly and optimistically. Martin softens us with lines about simple plots and good things coming our way – the stuff of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Oh, what a beautiful day? More so, now.
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ROCK: The Great Escape Artist
- Jane’s Addiction
- Three stars
“Splash a little water on it, see what you’re working with,” sings Perry Farrell, his croon Ozzy-gothic and distant. “Splash a little water on it, and see if it comes alive.” Jane’s Addiction has made its fourth album in 23 years; its first new material, here with producers Rich Costey (Interpol, Muse) and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, since Strays in 2003. The alt-rock quasi-legends reference the past lyrically and musically, while sounding titan-large and morning-fresh sonically in the process. Curiosity Kills is incandescent, towering and moody. There’s not much in the way of catchy hooks, but I’ll Hit You Back does conjure a certain In the Name of U2. Twisted Tales uses a danceable rock beat and a tense sheen. “I’ve got a reason to live,” concludes Farrell, on the dynamic gloom of Ultimate Reason. He speaks for his band – this is Jane’s Addiction new day.
ROCK: Impossible Spaces
- Sandro Perri
- Three and a half stars
Isn’t this a tasty little record? From Toronto’s evolving wunderkind Sandro Perri, Impossible Spaces is an album of fluid, eclectic indie-rock and jazzed vibes, with uncharted subtleties, magical connections and sublime textures (electro-blurbs, bass clarinet and flutes). Perri’s bed-soft tenor is easy on the ears and convincing – he even invokes sympathy for a Wolfman. While Love and Light has a lilting cha-cha to it, Changes winks at Bowie as it hugs Shuggie Otis. More than once I detect the influence of Philly-soul songwriters Gamble and Huff. Yeah baby, Perri’s got a thing going on.
Sandro Perri plays London, Ont., Oct. 28; Sarnia, Ont., Oct. 29. More dates at sandroperri.com.
CLASSICAL: Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang
- Mark Padmore, tenor
- Paul Lewis, piano
- harmonia mundi
- Three and a half stars
Perhaps there’s a moment after years of psychoanalysis when the words stop and the unconscious reveals itself. That’s how I hear this collaboration between the wonderful British pianist Paul Lewis and tenor Mark Padmore (their third Schubert recording), for Lewis seems to locate the true soul or driving force of each song in the accompaniment. Even when the piano merely echoes the voice, it has the vitality of a summation or a fresh start. If this seems to put Padmore in the back seat, we can only say that such fluid shifts in perspective, and such sudden illuminations, would not be possible with a less nuanced singer. Although I’m not always enamoured of Padmore’s sound – his light, mellow tenor is generally a pleasure, but it also bleats when the temperature’s high – these are interpretations of unusual strength.
- Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
- Three stars
The French do love their fromage. Though Anthony Gonzalez – the main humanoid behind electro-pop outfit M83 – traded Paris for Los Angeles prior to making this double album, he evidently brought a carry-on full of bombast and a toiletry case worth of silliness. Gonzalez and Co.’s decade-long progression from po-faced synthesizer enthusiasts to eighties-stadium-rock-pilferers reaches its apex on songs like the gently gorgeous choral exercise Splendor and the passionate and early-U2-channelling Reunion. But when a female voice in mid-song pleads, “Capsize me and douse me in your bay,” even a ham like Bono would roll his eyes. You can cull an enjoyable single disc out of it; still, Gonzalez ought to rein in his continent-bred instincts and do some editing of his own.