It sometimes feels that a band with such huge worldwide presence and such mighty success as Coldplay have a disproportionate responsibility to blow your mind when they release an album. They have been pop heroes before, so surely they have to come up with songs of sublime genius to save the world now.
And what have Coldplay done to combat these rather high expectations? Well, their rather oddly and cryptically named fifth studio album (when I say Mylo Xyloto it simultaneously conjures images of hot malt-flavoured drinks, xylophones and axolotls, none of which reflect anything about the album) initially doesn't feel quite as triumphant as previous album Viva la Vida, but it's still very good in an epic "we're all in this together" fashion.
Sonically speaking, they take some of the more folk-rock-blues elements developed on Viva and intersperse them with electronic, synth-based pop, and R&B bass lines as well as some quieter, more intimate acoustic tendencies (like on Us Against The World, where Chris Martin gets to sound like a dad). They do still sound like Coldplay, with more than a few soaring choruses, and chiming guitars - early single Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall has that effortlessly joyous air-punching factor that Coldplay did so well on Viva, with a guitar riff that sings like an Irish folk tune. But they are experimenting here, and perhaps surprisingly, the resulting combinations don't sound awkward. The plaintive strings and piano parts on Paradise actually sit quite nicely atop a reverberating hip-hop-esque drum beat and bass line; and even Princess Of China, which features Rihanna and is an excellent pulsing electro-pop R&B club anthem, somehow fits. Major Minus sees them pulling together a industrial post-rock guitar riff, with a subtly tribal drum beat, and some occasional floating piano decorations; and Hurts Like Heaven has a frenetic electronic energy that underpins some multilayered falsetto vocal lines. The small components of each track may not be new but the way Coldplay have somewhat schizophrenically mixed them together here has a certain freshness and "throw caution to the wind" attitude, ultimately quite appealing in an earnest, multi-sensory overload kind of way.
The band are indeed an earnest bunch, taking their work seriously and their concern for the various difficult issues facing the world comes through fairly obviously in the lyrics. It sounds like Martin has been spending a bit of time considering the plight of rebel youth on tracks like Charlie Brown ("Stole a key, took a car downtown where the lost boys meet, took a car downtown and took what they offered me, to set me free"), or the repressed, undervalued worker on Hurts Like Heaven. He doesn't earn any points for coming up with lines like "I'd rather be a comma than a full stop", and there a few too many cliches surrounded by motivational taglines for the themes to really breathe, but you have to hand it to Coldplay for continually finding messages that connect with the masses, while also satisfying their own experimental curiosities and producing music that has more depth than, say, The Black Eyed Peas or Justin Bieber.
Verdict: Some earnest experimentation keeps things fresh
Buy Coldplay's new album Mylo Xyloto, here.