When Chris Martin hinted the last Coldplay album might just be exactly that – their last – producer Brian Eno had other ideas, writes MusicWeek, in an extensive article on Coldplay and their forthcoming album, Mylo Xyloto. Read on for the details... you can discuss this article at the Coldplay forum now [thanks Skuze23]
Guitarist Jonny Buckland explains: "Brian’s a very inspirational character. He wrote us a letter actually after we finished the last album saying, ‘That was good, but I think we can go further, we can do more’ and so, in a way, he got the ball rolling for this." Drummer Will Champion adds: "Chris always has a knack of saying that this could be our last album but at the time, after we’ve just finished an album, it genuinely does feel like there’s nothing left in the tank – there’s no more ideas, so the idea of recording another record is terrifying."
It is to Eno’s credit that he has eked more mileage from the Coldplay juggernaut as Mylo Xyloto, the band’s fifth studio album, is arguably their most exciting, best flowing and enthralling listen since 2002’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head. Threatening more potentially classic Coldplay hit singles than its predecessor, 2008’s Viva La Vida And Death To All His Friends, it is not only likely to confirm their position as the world’s biggest band but potentially better its 9 million worldwide sales. Chatting at their Bakery Studio in Hampstead – having just finalised the tracklisting over lunch - the band appear relaxed although admittedly nervous how the world will respond to a record which began life as a “quiet acoustic record”, at one point was intended to be a soundtrack to a Yellow Submarine-style animated film (abandoned because it would take five years to make) and now sees life as a progressive synth-infused pop “concept album” that still rocks; Buckland’s guitar is arguably more prominent than on previous outings...
Bassist Guy Berryman reveals: "It was going to be a kind of soundtrack album to a film we were writing which had a story through it and we got quite far down the line with designing characters and then we abandoned that idea and moved into a different direction, retaining elements of the acoustic album and the soundtrack album, so what we’ve ended up with is an album that we arrived at in quite an unusual sort of way. So it’s kind of a hotchpotch of all those different phases."
Frontman Chris Martin – who last week revealed to Music Week how the Rihanna collaboration on future single Princess Of China came about – does not baulk at the idea of describing Mylo Xyloto as a concept album; indeed against a climate of downloading individual tracks he says they deliberately set out to make a body of work which fans would want to listen to in its entirety. "I think if you wanted to use that word you wouldn’t be wrong," Martin says. "It’s about people who are lost in a big scary environment and find each other as a form of getting through it. It’s a love story basically. But it hasn’t got many dragons or mountains, which I think is what people associate concept albums with. We really felt like the album is so under threat as a format that we should really make an effort to really tie it all together. And even if they don’t want to own it all, it makes sense as one thing, should anyone be interested in that. So if you want to find a narrative through it you can, which is something that we just enjoyed doing."
Production was entrusted to their established team: Markus Dravs, Daniel Green, Rik Simpson and Eno who is credited with 'enoxification and additional composition' with former manager Phil Harvey – the band’s unofficial “fifth member” – in a crucial creative director role. Berryman adds: "There were elements that were the same but it feels like a completely different page."
Indeed, recording sessions have not just included time experimenting at The Bakery with Buckland noting: "We can spend weeks on end with Brian doing songs based on campanology or, you know, barber shop" – and their other nearby larger studio The Beehive. Instead they have worked on the album while on tour in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, where they completed the album just last month (see track by track). Champion adds: "It was crucial really because we could see that the deadline was getting closer and closer and those hours that we had in those studios around the world were really priceless."
Parlophone president Miles Leonard, the band’s A&R man, agrees the band have made a benchmark album. "This has been a long while in the making but the band came off a huge touring schedule straight into writing and playing around with songs and that’s where Brian comes in and deconstructs songs and rebuilds them again. Then someone like Markus comes in and takes charge and gets behind the desk and delivers that rock sound," he says.
Meticulous planning meetings between the record company and management for a minimum 18-month campaign – possibly taking the band to yet uncharted territories including South Africa, Eastern Europe, south-east Asia and China – have occurred weekly since February. Leonard stresses, despite having 50 million album sales under their belt, nothing with Coldplay is taken for granted. He is particularly complimentary about 3D Management’s attention to detail and approach to the two singles prior to the album release (see box) – and especially allowing the band to preview new material on tour during the summer including during their Glastonbury headline where they delivered U2 a masterclass in how to enthral a festival crowd. Leonard says: "We see it as an advantage, not a disadvantage, to have more music out there. Nowadays people need to hear more than one single to be convinced to purchase a record."
But, frankly, it is likely to be the album purchase of 2011 for which many will need least convincing..
POP APPROACH: THE ALBUM'S UNUSUAL SETUP
Against a backdrop of declining sales for rock bands, Coldplay manager Dave Holmes risked a “pop approach” to release two singles – Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall (June 3) and Paradise (September 12) – ahead of their new album on October 24 in an unusual setup. He explains: "When I know we have enough songs for the album, I start thinking about the ideal time for release and in this case I had a non-traditional approach which I thought about, taking a really long setup. We decided on a single out in June – no talking about the album during an 'around the world buzz gig tour' if you will – as they test-drive the new material. I said, 'Let’s just let the music do the talking.'"
"I wanted to be grass roots. I said to them, ‘You have to be out there wearing two hats as you tour and finish the record.’ But people these days have such a short attention span – I see rock acts put out one single and then one album and then it disappears and then in pop they take two singles... I suppose they have to persuade people to buy the album. But by taking that couple of songs approach you feel engaged, and there’s not a lot of that going on with rock records at the moment."
While Holmes – now entering his 11th year of managing the band – agrees that his sense of excitement around Mylo Xyloto is reminiscent of that prior to A Rush Of Blood To The Head, his ambition with the record is not just to sell more albums. "I do think this will do better than the last, I would like it to do better, but it’s not just about sales. It’s about having more songs which stand the test of time. It would be great to walk away from this campaign with more songs in their repertoire."
MYLO XYLOTO: Exclusive track-by-track rundown with Chris Martin
01 MYLO XYLOTO
It means whatever you want it to mean. [To me] it means a freedom of expression and you can think up new words if you want to. There’s still things that you can invent and words beginning with X are few and far between so we thought we might try and add one.
02 HURTS LIKE HEAVEN
That’s the opening track, really. That’s kind of our call to arms to each other. I think it’s calisthenics musically for us. It warms you up.
If we ever won The X Factor, that’s the song we might sing. We never will, of course, but that’s what we would do. I think, if truth be told, we’re not really handsome enough to go on it.
04 CHARLIE BROWN
This is the only song we ever wrote in a doll’s house. I was staying in a place with a Wendy House and I turned it into a studio ‘cos my daughter didn’t like it. And I came back from a Bruce Springsteen show in LA and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s see if anything came out of that day.’
05 US AGAINST THE WORLD
The whole thing is supposed to be a kind of story so they all fit together and that is the two characters from the previous two songs when they meet each other. It’s about meeting someone you love and feeling powerful, when you meet someone and suddenly everything feels alright again.
It doesn’t stand for 2009. It came from (long-serving guitar tech) “Mat McGinn is awesome” so I don’t know why the fuck it got called that. It has nothing to do with anything… it stands for nothing; it’s just a collection of letters.
07 EVERY TEARDROP IS A WATERFALL
So the central theme of the record – Paradise is kind of about this as well – is trying to turn bad things into good things somehow. We as a band have been through some funny incidents in terms of people being aggressive towards us or whatever. And a lot of the record is fuelled by a kind of fire which comes from turning that negativity into positivity. And I think everyone in their life has something like that.
08 MAJOR MINUS
That’s like a Bond villain of a song. A bad cousin of the album. It’s the nasty one.
That’s the acoustic… that was the first song written for the album actually and the chord sequence in it pops up a few times. And that’s a kind of prayer “times” kind of song. There’s a lot of feeling lost on the album but also being found as well and that’s very much a bit of both.
10 PRINCESS OF CHINA (FEAT. RIHANNA)
I actually sort of wrote it for Rihanna and then I liked it too much. And then it became clear it was like a sort of back and forth between a couple. It took about a year to pluck up the courage but eventually I asked her and she was not unwilling. I played it for her on piano in Los Angeles. That was quite nerve-wracking, I’ve got to say. And so she said, ‘Oh okay, yeah!’
11 UP IN FLAMES
We wrote that about four weeks ago and then we recorded it in five countries in seven days. That was fun. That was when we knew we could finish the record because Will – who’s the hardest to please of the band – when he heard that he said, ‘Okay, we can finish now’ because I think he liked the space on it.
12 A HOPEFUL TRANSMISSION/DON’T LET IT BREAK YOUR HEART
Well, I think we wanted to do an album this time with a happy ending and I think we’ve actually done it, which we never thought we’d do. For whatever reason it is, it’s happened and that was very late in the day and it’s nice that song ‘cos you just hit everything as hard as possible – which for a band like Coldplay is a very pleasurable thing.
13 UP WITH THE BIRDS
That was when we were sort of thinking about a story that seemed like the end of a movie type thing.
More photos of Coldplay at Austin City Limits festival (16th September 2011):
Pictures: ACL Festival @ Flickr
There are no comments to display.