Over-analysis alert: If there’s one thing I love, it’s thinking way too much about a piece of artwork. I’ve had some time and multiple listenings to take in Coldplay’s new album, Mylo Xyloto, and I think I’ve pieced together a storyline. Take what you want from below … I offer it mostly as a way to enjoy the story of the album, in addition to the excellent music. (And Case, I’m sorry for being such a nerd.)
Big picture (from Wikipedia):
According to Chris Martin, the album is “based on a love story with a happy ending”, in which two protagonists: Mylo and Xyloto, who are living in an oppressive, dystopian urban environment, meet one another through a gang called “The Lost Boys”, and fall in love. Lyrically, the album is inspired by “old school American graffiti” and “the White Rose Movement [a nonviolent resistance movement in Nazi Germany who spread anonymous anti-Hitler leaflets].”
I’m going to go ahead and assume that the more electrical/produced the sound is, the more “dystopian” the setting and meaning is, and the more acoustic, the more pure and free. I’m also going to assume that there is one cogent storyline (ie, these songs could be performed by characters onstage in this order, as a rock opera, and make sense with scripting in-between). Third, I’m going to assume that this storyline is a fairly straightforward boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again plot, as suggested by the songs, and that they’re making use of pretty conventional dystopian stock characters, by and large.
So here’s the story as I get it:
- Mylo Xyloto: Overture, setting the stage
- Hurts Like Heaven: Seems like an introduction of one protagonist (let’s assume it’s Mylo, who’s the boy) — who’s going out with a group for the first time to do something illegal. “Yes, I feel a little bit nervous / yes, I feel nervous and I cannot relax / how come they’re out to get us?” Given the info from Wiki, I’m going to say he’s tagging the city with anti-authority graffiti as part of the Lost Boys gang.
- Paradise: Makes sense that this would be the introduction to the second protagonist (Xyloto, the girl, for the sake of the argument). Sounds to me like she’s deeper in the system than Mylo. In fact, I’m going to go way out on a ledge and say, if this is a typical/cliche dystopian plotline — and let’s be honest, Coldplay is an awesome band, not a group of groundbreaking novelists — she’s probably the daughter of a higher-up in the government organization. I know that’s a leap, but it lines up with some stuff later (especially in Princess of China), so bear with me. If I’m on the right track here, sounds like she’s under the influence/thumb of the system, repeating their propaganda “I know the sun must set to rise / this could be Paradise.” She dreams of more, but is locked in the system.
- Charlie Brown: This song is pretty narrative — it starts off with, “Stole a key / took a car downtown where the Lost Boys meet,” so I’m gonna go with this: something happened between songs to get Xyloto to leave home and seek out these graffiti artists/protestors, where she joins them. “Took what they offered me” could be drugs, or it could be a can of spray-paint as she joins them in their anti-authoritarian tagging. Then she pretty obviously meets Mylo when the music gets awesome under “Light a fire / light up my heart.” I think Mylo’s tagger name is Charlie Brown and his symbol is a cartoon heart. Sparks fly, lyrically and emotionally. See the quiet cue at the end of the song for a perfect “scene melts away as boy and girl touch” stage moment.
- Us Against the World: A perfect boy-and-girl song that doesn’t need much explaining. They’re in love and enjoying its secrecy.
- M.M.I.X.: I had it pointed out to me by someone smart that this is Roman numerals for 2009 … I think in addition, it’s the same first two letters as “Major Minus,” which is the most antagonistic song in the pack. If I were writing this story, I’d say this is the threat being introduced — their perfect little word being intruded (or spied) on by the villain — who, again, I’m going to call Xyloto’s father. Heck, I’ll even go so far as to presume that his name is Minus and his rank is Major.
- Every Teardrop is a Waterfall: I think this is the Mylo Xyloto version of “Do You Hear The People Sing.” Seems like a defiant anthem sung by the Lost Boys in chorus to me. “From underneath the rubble sing a rebel’s song.” The tension between our heroes and villains is getting amped up.
- Major Minus: Definitely a Big Brother song if there ever was one. I don’t see how there’s much question about this. “They’ve got one eye on the road and one on you.” This is a running-from-pursuers number. Interesting moments include “Hear those crocodiles ticking ’round the world,” – there’s the Peter Pan theme coming back around in an ominous way; our bad guys are definitely after the Lost Boys — and “She can hear them climbing the stairs / I’ve got my left side fighting…” Too much of a stretch to say that Mylo and Xyloto are cornered? I don’t think so.
- U.F.O.: Okay, I’m going to take my biggest narrative leap yet. I think that Mylo is offered a choice by Major Minus, Xyloto’s evil father — to rejoin the system so he can be with Xyloto, or to continue as a rebel and be separated from her. I know. This is a leap. But check out what follows in “Princess of China,” as well as “I don’t know which way I am going…” Sounds like a song where he’s trying to make up his mind.
- Princess of China: We’ve got a full-scale return to the dystopian, heavily-produced sound, especially over Xyloto’s part, which makes me think she’s been absorbed back into the system. It sounds to me like Mylo chose freedom from tyranny over joining the system, probably in the hope that Xyloto might still join him in liberty. But clearly, that’s not how it worked out. This song is the big reason I think Xyloto’s the daughter of a high-up, offering a devil’s deal of, “I could have been a princess / you’d be a king / could have had a castle / and worn a ring / but no / you let me go.” It ends with a brutal, “You really hurt me.”
- Up in Flames: “So it’s over,” pretty much sums up this whole song. Mylo is saying goodbye to Xyloto. I’m going to guess that the Lost Boys have been destroyed too, and that the flames the song described are both emotional and literal, because that makes for a good musical.
- A Hopeful Transmission: This is instrumental, but the title pretty much says it all. Sounds to me like Xyloto contacts Mylo and lets him know that she’s leaving the system and coming to him.
- Don’t Let it Break Your Heart: Happy reunion song. ‘Nuff said.
- Up with the Birds: They’re escaping, heading for hope and freedom. The acoustic suggests that they’re getting outside the system, and the birds suggest nature in contrast with the city heard throughout the song. “A simple plot / but I know one day / good things are comin’ our way.”
Okay. That’s all I’ve got. Now I’m going to go do something useful with my life. If you have a second, I’d love you to leave me a comment and let me know what you thought about this analysis!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Coldplay has announced that, next year, the full story of Mylo Xyloto will be told as a six-part comic. YES, you read that right. YES, you should be excited. Here’s the info. Let’s not forget, by the way, that Hollywood loves comics as pre-made movie pitches. So if the story isn’t terrible, we’re looking at the potential for a musical MX action-event tentpole Hollywood blockbuster (probably acted/sung by Chris Martin and Rihanna) in a few years. Yes, that’s going way out on a ledge. No, I don’t care. That’s how the system works, and if they want to make money on good music, that’s okay by me.
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