Yes, that’s Mylo Xyloto. As far as album titles go, this one definitely raises some questions, particularly how in the world is it pronounced and, more importantly, what can it possibly mean? For starters, the correct pronunciation is “My-lo Zyle-toe,” but if the pronunciation itself proves confusing, then the meaning of the title is a veritable Gordian Knot! In response to fans’ incessant inquiries, lead singer Chris Martin mystically waves his hand in the air and teases, “We took it from the randomness of the universe.” Consequently, I can’t help but think that attempts to label Mylo Xyloto miss the point. Maybe Mylo Xyloto, more than conveying any specific meaning, stands as a richly ambiguous symbol of pure creativity, undefinable and free. As Chris Martin, explains:
“Something about it feels quite fresh. The title doesn’t have any other meaning. I think we’re a band with a lot of history now so it’s nice to come up with something that doesn’t have any history at all. We’ve had that title for about two years on a board and any other potential titles had to be written next to it. Other ones made more sense but we just liked this one, that’s all we can defend it with.”
Yet, this has not stopped people in any way from extrapolating the meaning of the title. Some ambitious fans, self-pronounced etymologists, conjecture that Mylo Xyloto translates into “My Love, Wooden Lotus.” At least they manage to change the nonsense into English. The same cannot be said of others who take a still more radical approach and point to the tracks “U.F.O.” and “A Hopeful Transmission” to boldly argue that Mylo Xyloto doesn’t make any sense to us because it’s obviously in an alien language. Even Stephen Colbert takes a stab at it, and quips that Mylo Xyloto must be Greek for “Miley Cyrus.” Clearly, Mylo Xyloto has the world – fans and critics alike – utterly baffled.
Although the ambiguity of the title and Chris Martin’s evasive responses are certainly sources of frustration for all the fans desperately hoping to make sense of this two-word conundrum, Chris Martin’s statements are not completely unhelpful. Instead, they emphasize the importance of Mylo Xyloto’s indefinability. Mylo Xyloto refuses to be tacked down and this focus on unbridled creativity and free expression reveals the album’s fundamental connection to its sources of inspiration. Coldplay has explained that this album was created against the rich backdrop of several protest traditions. The diverse sources of inspiration range from the student-led, anti-Nazi group known as the White Rose Movement, the rebellious art form of graffiti, and the criticisms of government presented in the television series The Wire. Coldplay intertwines all of these themes, particularly freedom from oppression and the power of creativity, in Mylo Xyloto. This background allows the otherwise overused concept of love and heartbreak to present itself in a totally fresh and original way, functioning as an allegory for social protest. Thus, Coldplay sets out to show both the hope that fuels protest as well as the troubles that can befall it – just as love, though beautiful, can also take a turn for the worse. To this effect, the album has three main acts, each separated by a brief interlude of under a minute.
The first song, “Mylo Xyloto” is a shimmering entrance that smoothly transitions into the kinetic and upbeat synth-pop of “Hurts Like Heaven.” Then the cosmic, glittering guitars fade out into the stylish and majestic “Paradise” which has unsurprisingly managed to jump into iTunes’ top twenty. “Paradise” absolutely brims with hope and best represents the first act. Martin sings, “And underneath those stormy skies she said, ‘I know the sun must set to rise’” and then the song explodes into the ever-so-catchy refrain “This could be Para-para-paradise.” In this way, “Paradise” reveals the potential of individuals to transform their world. A vision of paradise, of a utopia, can tenaciously take hold of the mind and fuel individuals with a fervent determination to better their world. Indeed, when Chris Martin sings, he stands alongside Hans and Lisa Scholls of the White Rose Movement, and the guitars, with their captivating music, create the same vibrant expression of graffiti art.
“Paradise” is by all means a tough act to follow, but Coldplay bursts forth with colorful exuberance in “Charlie Brown”. This endearing song blends in the melody of Vince Guaraldi’s well-known “Linus and Lucy” and closes with a “Christmastime is Here”-themed ending, and in effect, conveys the sweet tenderness and purity of love. In contrast to the frenetic pace of “Charlie Brown,” “Us Against the World” is more ponderous and spacey, and the serenity of the song suggests that love can act as a sanctuary against the harshness of the world. Accordingly, Chris Martin sings “so whatever you do, don’t let go,” a line which implies the possibility of breakup and thus, foreshadows the second act.
Up in Flames
The second act begins just as vividly as the first with “Every Tear is a Waterfall.” But if the music sounds relatively upbeat it also creates the sense of gradually building tension. This song is well characterized by the line, “Maybe I’m in the gap between the two trapeze… cathedrals in my heart.” Gone is the idealism that captured the first act and now everything seems to be held in a delicate balance. Success is no longer certain and the world holds its breath. Indeed, the situation takes a turn for the worse and “Major Minus” quickly shifts the mood with its disconcerting warning call “They’ve got one eye watching you/one eye on what you do. So be careful.” Here, Coldplay’s classic falsetto “oohs” sound more like siren wails than their usually catchy pop flourishes. A sense of urgency and danger lurks under every distorted chord. Of all the songs in the album, this one has the most directly political message, a caution against government surveillance. “U.F.O.” continues this downward spiral, evincing a sense of lost purpose and direction. Chris Martin sings “Lord I don’t know which way I am going… It’s just seems that upstream, I keep rowing/Still got such a long way to go.” The hopeful outlook of the first act has dissipated and the possibility of attaining paradise now seems further off than ever before.
“Princess of China,” appropriately brings in the princess of pop, Rihanna. This song is a pulsing, catchy duet and again conveys the image of a lost paradise. The lyrics proceed almost like a fairytale, “Once upon a time, somebody ran… Once upon a time we fell apart,” but like “Major Minus” all is not right, and there is an undeniably tragic tone to the piece. A song of unrealized dreams, Rihanna laments “Could’ve had a castle and worn a ring, but no.” Again, a parallel can be drawn between a shattered relationship and a crumbling protest movement. In both situations, hopes are liable to be disappointed and ultimately, fall apart.
Finally, this second act reaches a climax in the aptly named, “Up in Flames.” Sadness pulses through this song and a melancholy piano compliments Chris Martin’s falsetto which wonderfully conveys heart-wrenching grief. Each time he sings the refrain with such tenderness and pain that the constantly repeated line “Up in Flames” expresses piercing pain. With these agonized wails, the second movement comes to a tragic close and as the guitars fade out, they echo the lingering sadness of something lovely lost.
Up With the Birds
The colorful clinking and clattering of “A Hopeful Transmission” quickly reestablishes a sense of hope and “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” reinvigorates the album by the inspiration not to give up. Clearly, Coldplay has no intention of leaving fans downcast and teary-eyed. Consequently, “Up with the Birds” begins like an uplifting spiritual. Half-way through, the song switches gears and increases its pace. As Martin sings, “Send me up to that wonderful world/ and then I’m up with the birds,” listeners can’t help but remember the image of paradise evoked in the first act. So for Coldplay, the message ends on a hopeful note. Although plans may fall apart, love may turn into pain, and the world might seem to go “Up in Flames,” hope remains. And thus, even failed protests movements succeed in that they keep the vision of paradise alive. Paradise lives on, for there is always a chance to start again.
In short, Mylo Xyloto, with its cosmic, synth-laden sound, is a welcome change to the Coldplay formula. The clear falsettos and cool “oohs” that have made Coldplay so famous are all here and are sure to keep fans satisfied until their next album. Yet, there is an undeniable vibrancy present in Mylo Xyloto that wasn’t there before. The heavy use of synths adds new layers of richness and colorful bleeps and other electronic noises sprinkled throughout the album come off as startlingly fresh. The use of techno sounds gives the entire album a cosmic, almost psychedelic feel. Overall, these techniques dapple the music with variegated hues and in this respect, the parallels with graffiti art are especially poignant.
Thus, with Mylo Xyloto, Colplay remains mainstream but in no way becomes generic. Sure, it goes over the clichéd theme of “heartbreak” that saturates the music world, but by placing it in the context of resistance to authority, it manages to give this otherwise trite theme new life. Moreover, Mylo Xyloto refuses to be limited and so, it becomes about more than love – even more than social protest. Coldplay’s latest album is a statement on the power of individuals to change the world for the better, through love, through protest, through music – through any means of expression. So, if Mylo Xyloto should be seen as anything, it is as an attempt to raise music to another level, to allow it to transcend the pigeonhole categories of “pop” or “alternative” and become art, pure, free and powerful enough to inspire and effect change in the world. In this sense, maybe it’s less about deciphering Mylo Xyloto, than coming to discover it.