Coldplay’s latest album, Mylo Xyloto starts in the band’s usual lush way. To be honest, I first feared that this was frontman Chris Martin’s effort to produce the World Treehuggers Union extended soundtrack. The instrumental title track certainly made me think more than once of the Tellytubbies or somesuch fearful children’s television creatures jumping about in a meadow. But then, I was told that the album is a concept album “based on a love story with a happy ending... in which two protagonists, Mylo and Xyloto, who are living in an oppressive, dystopian urban environment, meet one another through a gang called ‘The Lost Boys’, and fall in love.” Oh, and it’s inspired by “old school American graffiti.
Well, I don’t know about the superstructure of this album, but ‘Hurts like heaven’ certainly is an uppity number. It takes a solid 33 seconds for Martin to let out his trademark ‘woooo’ sheep howl that I cannot come to terms with. There is a lot of twiddling instruments going on here. But with a chorus line that goes, “You/ Ooohooh/ ’Cause you do/ Oh you, use your heart as a weapon/ And it hurts like heaven.” I’m sure there’s a deep anti-WTO message buried in the song somewhere.
In ‘Paradise’, Coldplay goes down the Andrew Lloyd Weber road. Even the synth-drenching can’t make me stop howling with laughter when Martin — shooting his poisoned ‘oooo-ooooh’ arrows — sings “Para-para-paradise.” We move from Phantom of the Opera zone to that of the Lion King in ‘Charlie Brown’. The ‘ooooo’s have gone longer. But this tune is captivating and I sense a shift. The words are the hookline: “My scarecrow dreams,/ When they smashed my heart into smithereens,/ I be a bright red rose come bursting the concrete./ Be the cartoon heart,/ Light a fire, light a spark.” At last I sit up and listen.
‘Us against the world’ finger-plucks its way with Martin’s Marmite voice full-on. It’s a ditty that demands hearing. But the 80s synth is back a couple of tracks later in ‘Every teardrop is a waterfall’. We could be in an Erasure video, prancing about to this campfire-meets-candlelight vigil anthem. By the time, I reach ‘Princess of China’ — where Martin duets with Rihanna — it dawns on me what’s happening here. In a bid to make a crappy, super-emo album loved by lots of people be loved by many more, our lads from England have made a ‘concept’ album. So the music is saved by good, healthy and happy intentions. And dollops of ‘woooo’s.
Peter Gabriel was the original Chris Martin, if you will, doing songs about ecology and other life-affirming themes such as smashing technological devices and hitting out against bad, rich people. In his ninth studio album, New Blood, Gabriel pulls out the stops that he had started in his previous album Scratch My Back last year. Essentially, he has added an orchestra in this album to many of his old songs (in Scratch My Back he did this with other people’s songs).
Yes, on paper that sounds bad and cheesy and the ingredients of an embarrasing album. But imagine my surprise when ‘The Rhythm of the Heat’, the opening track, with its deep, rich layered sound along with Gabriel’s voice engulf the room like a giant bird. There is pure musical force in the number, and a sense of drama.
The grandeur of the horns that start ‘Downside up’ could be Brahms on a Sunday. “All the strangers look like family/ All the family looks so strange,” Gabriel sings in a grainy hush that lifts. The powerful chomps on strings and horns in ‘Darkness’ are tangible. “I’m scared of swimming in the sea/ dark shapes moving under me/ every fear i swallow makes me small/ inconsequential things occur/ alarms are triggered/ memories stir,” sings Gabriel. The track is part-Kurt Weill and part-Brothers Grimm.
To run the risk of sounding heretical, I would think this is Gabriel’s finest album. Old songs like ‘The nest that sailed the sky’ and ‘Don’t give up’ don’t just get a new lease of life but emerge as rather fabulous creations. New Blood isn’t a pop or rock album. It is essentially a song album with a massive backdrop.