"We're hated as a band can be," Coldplay singer Chris Martin recently told Entertainment Weekly during an interview laced with a squirming inferiority complex. Perhaps that's absurd and disingenuous coming from an arena band with seven Grammys and 40 million albums sold (and a headlining slot at last summer's Lollapalooza),
but at least it indicated a band trying not to rest on laurels. Describing the band's new album, "Mylo Xyloto" (Capitol) out today, Martin continued: "It's an effort to redefine what a Coldplay record is. Who knows if anyone will like it? But we definitely can't be accused of standing still and relying on the same formula."
Actually, that accusation is still easy and applicable -- and not necessarily a bad thing.
Martin may not hear it, or want to after a decade of hit records, but Coldplay has a clear formula, a good one. The band's repeated successes with several sweet anthems wouldn't remain so durable without a reliable template. "Mylo Xyloto" (MY-lo ZY-luh-to) is as bright and colorful as its graffiti cover art, but like each previous album it also merely massages the Coldplay feel-good formula, adorning it with different sounds and styles, this time courtesy of returning producer Brian Eno.
Eno has an impressive track record with certain artists (David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads), but he's not King Midas -- not everything he touches turns to a creative breakthrough. When he began collaborating in the early '70s, his production was credited on albums as "Enossification"; in the "Mylo" credits, it's "Enoxification." That doesn't necessarily mean it's become noxious. For "Mylo," it means wrapping most of these recordings in gauze, blurring the crisp edges, shooting them through the sonic equivalent of "soft focus." Enoxification here simply keeps the sound interesting enough -- the percolating loops underneath "Charlie Brown," for instance, or the swaying synth-strings on the single "Paradise" -- so that listeners won't completely confuse the band's widescreen balladry with its last round of sing-along hits.