With Viva La Vida I was hopeful that Chris Martin was evolving into a subtler version of Bono, with various hints at faith throughout the lyrics. I've been enjoying Mylo Xyloto whilst trying to work out what he's singing about this time, and the answer seems to be 'not a great deal'. The lyrics are mostly pretty vague, and its rather odd hearing a global superstar band singing about the joys of being an outsider, whether its the graffiti artist (Hurts Like Heaven), stealing a car to go and get drugs (Charlie Brown), or 'Us Against the World'.
This latter track has the most biblical/spiritual imagery, and at the same time illustrates very well how it's used: for effect rather than for meaning.
Oh, morning, come bursting, the clouds amen
Lift off this blindfold, let me see again
And bring back the water that your ships rode in
In my heart she left a hole
The tightrope that I'm walking just sways and ties
The devil as he's talking with those angel's eyes
And I just want to be there when the lightning strikes
And the saints go marching in
And sing, slow-owow-owow-owow-it down
Through chaos as it swirls, it's us against the world
Like a river to a raindrop I lost a friend
My drunken has a Daniel in a lion's den
And tonight I know it all has to begin again
So whatever you do, don't let go
And if we could float away, fly up to the surface
And just start again and lift off before trouble
Just erodes us in the rain, just erodes us in the rain
Just erodes us, and see roses in the rain
Now this could be Coldplays way of saying they're longing for the second coming to deliver them from a world where Satan, disguised as an angel of light, reigns through chaos. Or it could be a vague meditation on feeling bereft because of some unnamed woman who's broken his heart. We've seen this before: e.g. the Roman cavalry choirs of Viva La Vida: sounds significant, means....... ??
The other most overtly spiritual lyric on the album, UFO, could also be taken either way.
Lord I don't know which way I am going
which way the rivers gonna flow
It starts like a prayer, but doesn't really get very far. There's talk about sunlight streaming through the holes in the sky ripped by bullets, which if you're that way inclined could link to Romans 8 about all things working together for good, or Revelation where God makes all things new. But those links are in the mind of the listener, not in the words themselves.
The whole CD has plenty of aspirations and 'up' language: to 'heaven', 'paradise', cathedrals in the heart, flying up to the surface (see above), being 'up with the birds' etc., and it closes with the line 'good things are coming our way', but nothing to suggest why. With the final implosion of Oasis, maybe Coldplay are now trying to fill the gap in the market for optimistic rock songs. In many ways this mirrors the music: just as language is used for effect, not content, Mylo Xyloto is more of a sound than a collection of tunes. I found it harder to identify particular songs (with the exception of Paradise or the superb Princess of China) during early listens, or the overall flow of the album. Like the colourful but messy artwork, Mylo Xyloto is rich in musical colour, but it's a bit harder to identify particular shapes, either to the music, or to the words. The lack of a full set of lyrics with the CD maybe indicates that Coldplay don't really want to draw attention to their lyrics, and don't set as much store by them as some of their fans.
Which is a shame really. I enjoy challenging lyrics, that have a bit of depth or meaning to them. Whilst U2 continue to try to say something through their music, I wonder if Coldplay have given up. The album title, after all, doesn't mean anything. (It also means they get Google all to themselves!) Given their support for Oxfam and other good causes, that's a missed opportunity. Yes it's 4 blokes having fun making music, and perhaps I should be happy with that - it's good music after all. Is it wrong to want more?
PS the post title is a reference to Cemetaries of London, on Viva La Vida "I saw God come in my garden but I don't know what He said/for my heart it wasn't open." But you knew that already.