Coldplay’s new album, "Mylo Xyloto," is a concept album, the story of a relationship collapsing. Though this theme becomes overwhelmed in spots, there is a clear narrative at work here. That’s half the magic of the record. While romance and break-ups are old material for pop music, singer Chris Martin has written an album that takes the next step: reconciliation.
Coldplay has a history of using Christian ideas that can be appreciated by wide audiences. On their last album, Martin proclaimed “I don’t want to battle from beginning to end/ I don’t want to cycle, recycle revenge/ I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.” Embracing forgiveness is a Christian idea if ever I heard one, but also easily palatable to most people.
"Mylo Xyloto"has fewer of those moments. When they do occur, they are mostly concentrated in a few specific songs. In these few instances, religious references are even more explicit than in Coldplay’s prior work. "U.F.O."confesses “Lord I don't know which way I am going/Which way river gonna flow/It just seems that upstream, I keep rowing/Still got such a long way to go.” In the context of this album’s story, the singer is looking for hope while his romantic relationship collapses. Like an Israelite lament, the song confesses faith in God in the middle of the pain: “In that light (it's Your eyes)/I know, I swear, we'll find somewhere the streets are made of gold.” As unsure of his beliefs as Martin may be, this is a surprising statement of faith! At more than one point listening to this album, I found myself wondering if at least portions of these songs would be appropriate in a worship service.
"Mylo Xyloto"twists the normal pop music narrative around a bit. Blues-based music is particularly well-suited to singing songs of heartbreak. This is part of why so many pop songs are about break-ups. In that regard, it is no surprise to see this album is about a break-up. In some ways, this is the opposite of most narratives in other forms of popular media: introduction, conflict, resolution. The happy ending of most movies contrasts sharply with the depressing end in much pop music. On most of "Mylo Xyloto," Coldplay follows the standard pop music narrative as one would expect: boy meets girl, conflict, boy and girl break up.
However, at the end, Martin adds a twist: boy resolves to care for girl. The final song on "Mylo Xyloto"hints that the male protagonist refuses to give up: “Might have to go where they don't know my name/Float all over the world just to see her again/But I won't show or feel any pain/Even though all my armor might rust in the rain/A simple plot, but I know one day: good things are coming our way.” This final song, “Up With the Birds,” expresses the protagonist’s resolve to repair the relationship even if it is an unpleasant process.
In 2008 my wife left me. Our relationship had fallen apart over the prior year and her leaving was the inevitable result. In the months that followed I struggled to respond well, and failed. In retrospect, a better response would have been the story "Mylo Xyloto"tells: when everything is over, we must believe in healing and reconciliation. I should have had courage to stand, “even though all my armor might rust in the rain.” This is the course demanded for those who believe in a God who makes all things good.
The conclusion to "Mylo Xyloto"reminds me that I am a student of the God who came to offer Himself to people who might still reject Him. In calling Jesus “Lord,” I accept the call to be His disciple, and I must allow this to permeate every part of my life. This applies to the sorts of things we easily notice as religious, but it also applies to the more mundane parts of life. Proceeding through life and meeting pain are inevitable. In spite of this, we must become like Jesus and the protagonist in Coldplay’s latest album - vulnerable - and offer ourselves again and again.