Thursday, April 26, 2012

Top Album of 2011

When starting a blog, one always has a long list of ideas and plans to execute. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way.

So that is the main reason why this post, which should have been scheduled for January, is just now seeing the light of day. However, in my busyness/procrastination, a new thought came to mind.

More often than not, the first few listens of an album tell you what you need to know. But every once in a while, a second look can open up your eyes and ears to a view you didn’t have previously.

So I wanted to try something different this time around - giving myself some time to really dive into the material. The review of my pick for the best album of 2011 will come six months after its release.

Back when Mylo Xyloto first entered my life.

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto (5 stars)

Call it love at first listen. The first time I stuck my headphones in my ears and let all 14 tracks found on Mylo Xyloto play the first time, I could do nothing but smile.

But to fully understand how I got to that point, we must first go back a few years.

I was late to the Coldplay train, but when I arrived at the station I rode that thing non-stop. My first introduction didn’t come until after X&Y, but in the months that followed I immersed myself in all things Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head.

In the time that passed, “Yellow” became (and remains) my favorite song of all time. But it was the range of emotions I could feel from Chris Martin and company (“Talk”; “Warning Sign”; “Clocks”) that made me become a full-fledged fan.

Then Viva La Vida came into the picture and I was able to witness my first Coldplay concert. That night will forever go down as one of the best of my life (no exaggeration), even though VLV remains my least favorite Coldplay album, though it was still a solid release.

I give that background for two reasons: one) so you know upfront where I’m coming from as a Coldplay fan and two) to address the “old/new Coldplay” comparisons I’m going to have to bring up later.

After rolling out the marketing campaign for the band’s fifth studio album, Coldplay released “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” in the summer of last year. It was a unique release, as the lyrics were revealed before the actual song.

Turned out the mood of the song was nothing how I pictured it after reading the lyrics, and I wasn’t alone. ETIAW was met with mediocre reviews and doubts about the album began to sneak in, even after the booming bliss of "Paradise." Namely it became - what kind of direction will the band go in?

Martin had hinted in earlier previews that the album would be mostly acoustic. Another report was that it would follow the story of the couple first portrayed in “Wedding Bells,” a song that Martin played at an Apple event that was never officially released (though some feel the track “Christmas Lights” that was released in December 2010 is the finished version).

Turns out, neither of those were true. Well, the couple thing wasn’t far off as some theories suggest. Instead, Mylo Xyloto became a mixture of political undertones and graffitti art set to a Disney landscape, a la “Fantasia.”

Some of the clips of unreleased songs made thier way to youtube as they were debuted at concerts. I was able to catch some of them myself when I attended the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta in September 2011. It was the first time I heard “Hurts Like Heaven” and everytime I listen to the track now it takes me back to that moment.

Same with “Charlie Brown” and besides a few plays on the radio it was also the first time for “Major Minus.” This concert was outdoors, in the dark, and set to an imagery of lasers and fireworks spectacles that made for a fantastic experience.

I’m honestly not sure if I would love Mylo Xyloto as much if not for that concert. It completely changed my mind on “Waterfall” and I can practically feel myself back in Atlanta when I hear certain songs.

The new tracks I hadn’t already heard upon my first listen included “Don’t Let it Break Your Heart,” “Princess of China” and “U.F.O.” I know the guest vocals of Rihanna were met with criticism, but I feel the two artists truly completed each other on Coldplay’s first song on a studio album that included a guest appearance.

So, can fans who hold on to Parachutes as the defining Coldplay album come to love Mylo Xyloto? The answer seems to be... maybe. Some will like it, some will want the band to stay with the tried and true basic piano and guitar sound - the one that defined them.

My take is this: The sound on MX is different than the previous albums, yet it’s still the same at its core. Heartbreak, inspiration, hopelessness and hopefulness - Coldplay have always intertwined these settings in all of their music and they do it beautifully with their latest effort. The one request I have to fans is to not knock it until you try it - you may find out that some of the themes, though presented much more stylistically, are still there.

Going in to making my list for the best albums of 2011, I had to step back for a minute with MX. I admit my bias so I needed to figure if it really was the best, especially in a year in which so many big names released material.

And the answer, at least for me and in my own personal opinion, was yes. Mylo Xyloto is a five-star album from beginning to end and is an experience throughout the whole thing, an attribute that is rare nowadays.

As much as a lot of people think otherwise, Mylo Xyloto is not that far off from the band’s previous records. And I know I’m in a lesser opinion when I say this, but I truly believe the band focused all of their talents into making the biggest and most colorful album of their discography and (one of) the best in their career.

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