Monthly Archives: October 2011
Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends may have had themes of revolution in its lyrics and artwork, but its music only evoked the demure ruling class, the lavish orchestrations and stately arrangements positively shimmering with regal beauty. During these sessions, producer Brian Eno gently encouraged Coldplay to experiment, but the band’s innate harmlessness kept them from truly challenging their audience. This didn’t hurt that record, of course, since the group wrote a strong set of songs and pushed themselves just enough to craft something distinctive, but Coldplay’s non-threatening nature begins to catch up with them on Mylo Xyloto, their 2011 follow-up.
From the moment “Hurts Like Heaven” kicks in with its skipping beat and bright, boppy melody, it’s clear that this isn’t the average Coldplay album: Mylo Xyloto breaks the London group’s tradition of brooding, schoolboy melancholia in favor of dance-pop-flavored anthems. This isn’t exactly a soundtrack to a night out clubbing, but the emphasis on rhythm and colorful synths means that most of these songs are only a slight remix away from the dance floor. In other words, this is the first Coldplay album to abandon self-seriousness for a optimistic, often cheery tone, both in its music and lyrics. But though they are mining new territory, Mylo is unfortunately short on ideas.
Eno returns to assist the band, but his contributions sound considerably fewer, and only the ambient and ethereal effects that haunt the album really bear his influence. So though his compositions help the record cohere, the band are largely left to their own devices and seem to be caught between their urge to experiment and their urge to write a great pop song. They may have brightened their palette, but often on Mylo, it’s clear that Coldplay don’t exactly know what to do with it. For a record that is so self-consciously pop, “Paradise” and “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall,” with their majestic sweep, are easy choices for singles, but they lack the emotion to be truly rousing. On the other hand, “Princess Of China” and “Charlie Brown” are the album’s most pleasant surprises, boasting some of the album’s most memorable moments, even though Rihanna’s guest spot on the former doesn’t seem to fulfill its potential. The group still, more or less, return to familiar territory from time to time, but the simple beauty of tracks like “Up In Flames,” “U.F.O.,” or the fine, rough-edged “Major Minus” unfortunately get lost in the grandeur of the album’s glistening pop centerpieces and feel more like passing comments rather than the small gems they are.
Mylo Xyloto showcases a band uncertain whether they should embrace the pure pop of their singles or follow their instincts into artier territory. And in their rush to please everyone, they created a relatively mediocre record with only a few shining moments. It’s an album that will likely polarize fans, but it’s hard to imagine many of them at all considering it their favorite Coldplay record. Though the album was supposedly inspired by New York graffiti, Mylo Xyloto ultimately resembles less a provocative piece of artwork and more the spray-painted scrawlings on the side of a building: pleasant while passing by but quickly forgotten.
Weezer – Pinkerton
The John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band of sexual frustration. That’s really the best way to explain it. Incredibly, almost uncomfortably, confessional and oftentimes harrowing, Weezer’s Pinkerton is an anomaly in the band’s oeuvre. Disillusioned by the success of his band’s first album and under the influence of both pain and pain killers from the aftermath of leg surgery, Rivers Cuomo sequestered himself to a lonely semester at Harvard, where he wrote new songs and pieced together old demos from his scrapped concept album, Songs From The Black Hole. So though not every song is explicitly autobiographical, the emotion and subject matter is still true to Cuomo, who writes with soul-bearing sincerity throughout. Pinkerton is a song cycle largely about heartbreak and depression (with disparate references to Madame Butterfly), but Cuomo revitalizes these subjects through his revealing lyrics, which are self-pitying but feel human, not pathetic. During the record he reveals embarrassing secrets about his feelings for an adoring fan (“Across The Sea”), agonizes over pursuing romantic interests (“El Scorcho,” “Why Bother?,” “Falling For You”) and resigns himself to staying in a dysfunctional relationship (“No Other One”). Yet along with the despair, there are moments of hope and humor, even if it is self-deprecating. “Pink Triangle” is about a doomed crush on a lesbian, while on “The Good Life,” he decides to pick himself up and get back “out on the floor, shakin’ booty.”
But it’s not just Cuomo’s words. His songwriting and the band’s performance provide considerably more power than on Weezer’s already fantastic debut. The band’s basic sound hasn’t changed much—it’s still the same mix of power pop, punk-pop, indie rock and heavy metal—but they decided to go for a more visceral, bare-bones sound, akin to their live performances. The result is often messy and dense, with overlapping backing vocals, noise-ravaged guitar riffs, pounding beats and Cuomo’s emotive shouts rising above the din. Cuomo’s songs, too, are better than ever, and for an album so rough and emotional, they are perhaps even more hooky than the songs on Weezer. “Tired Of Sex” and “Getchoo” vie for the most brutal and angry moment in their catalog; “The Good Life” and “El Scorcho” have memorable, fist-pumping choruses; “Why Bother?” has a raucous, freewheeling energy, and “Butterfly” is a heartrending, acoustic closer.
At the time, unsurprisingly for an album so emotionally vulnerable, Pinkerton was largely shunned both by the press and the music-buying public, leading to its initial flop release and Weezer’s hiatus shortly there afterwards. It was only years later, as the album’s cult audience grew, that critics suddenly revered it, gradually leading to its current stature as one of the greatest records of the 1990s. Even so, Pinkerton had a profound influence on the then-burgeoning emo and indie rock scenes, which, at the time, weren’t so far apart. If only more artists were as honest as Cuomo is here.
Wilco – The Whole Love
Ever since their breakthrough, 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco have been trying to find the right mix of their rootsy country-folk side and their experimental, envelope-pushing side. Not that the three albums that followed weren’t fine, but they weren’t as cohesive or uniformly strong as the band’s best work. Even more, on the sort-of self-titled Wilco (The Album), the group took stock of their past, and for all intents and purposes, it seemed Wilco were ready to relegate themselves into comfortable maturity. That’s why 2011’s The Whole Love is such a refreshing surprise. It’s a complex and diverse record, one that recalls their excellent ’90s records, Being There and Summerteeth, as much as it touches on the artier flourishes of their more recent work. In short, its successful synthesis of the band’s many sounds means that The Whole Love is the record that Wilco tried to make for years but hadn’t quite nailed before now. The band’s sound may have not changed considerably—all the familiar pieces are in place—but there’s a vitality and richness in the songwriting and performances that impresses throughout. The first three songs alone cover nearly all the bases of Wilco’s personality: “Art of Almost” starts things off with electronic manipulations and a shifting, propulsive groove but ends up finishing with a fiery guitar solo; “I Might” is a rollicking, ragged pop gem, and the drowsy ballad “Sunloathe” glides through its dreamy arrangements and off-kilter melodies. And yes, typical of their post-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot releases, there is a heavier emphasis on moody contemplation here—check the pensive “Black Moon” and the beautiful closer “One Sunday Morning,” where Jeff Tweedy manages to ride the same melody for 12 minutes without breaking its spell. But the group doesn’t skimp on the uptempo tracks either, with the rock & roll swagger of “Standing O,” the bubbly “Born Alone” and the stomping pop of “Dawned On Me” all easily proving themselves as standouts.
One of the biggest draws of the record, though, is the musicians themselves, who not only impress individually but as a collective. Here is a group of accomplished musicians, playing inventively off one another in the way only a band with the right chemistry can. And it’s as evident on the noisy guitar punctuations that blast through on “Dawned On Me” as the whimsical keyboard and percussion fills on “Capitol City.” Still, The Whole Love doesn’t get by on flash and pretension. Instead, it’s a record that sounds good at first, and unveils a richness and warmth with each consecutive play, growing into something startlingly affecting. To hell with innovation, The Whole Love is simply a great American album produced by one of the great modern American rock bands.
Kasabian – Velociraptor!
Kasabian’s stadium-sized anthems have garnered the band as many rabid fans as detractors, and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve never been as witty as contemporaries like Arctic Monkeys, and their Oasis-like quest for domination feels like a Brit-rock cliché at this point. Plus, aside from a handful of moments, Kasabian’s reach often exceeds their grasp, the group sometimes unable to flesh out their ideas into memorable songs over the course of an album. But 2011’s Velociraptor! may just be their most cohesive and entertaining record yet, even if it’s not going to change anyone’s mind about the group. The band doesn’t really chart new territory here—it’s still the same mix of swaggering dance-rock, swirling psychedelia and Chemical Brothers-style electronica—but this is their most consistently exciting set to date, marrying songcraft and production more seamlessly than ever. Keeping producer Dan the Automator on board from West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum means there is once again a heavy reliance on rhythm, and they bring more elements into the mix, whether it be the matador trumpet riff that begins the album or the menacing lo-res synth on “Switchblade Smiles.” It’s the songs themselves, though, that make Velociraptor! the success that it is. The one-two punch of “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To” and “Days Are Forgotten”‘s fist-pumping hooks begins the record off on a high note; “Re-Wired” is a great, stomping single; “Neon Noon” closes things out with blissed-out psychedelia, and the manic rush of the title track may just be the best thing on here. And since Kasabian’s lyrics have always been better suited to shout-along choruses than to academic analysis, it helps that they don’t dwell on words, with the hooks and music simply steamrolling over everything else. No, not every track here is a knockout (I’m looking at you, “Man Of Simple Pleasures”), and, yes, it’s arguable that a few overstay their welcome (particularly “La Fée Verte”). But even in these moments, the record never loses the momentum created by its considerable high points. Fans may treasure some of Kasabian’s older work more, but it’s hard to deny that Velociraptor! is the group’s most refined and purposeful effort yet, far too creative to be derided as simple “lad-rock.”