In 2000, when MTV showed two music videos a day instead of one, I recall watching a video featuring a squirrel-y looking fellow walking along a merky morning beach. I didn’t care much for the redundant slow motion effect or the dusk-to-dawn illusion, but as a teenager, was enthralled in what this hoodie-wearin’ bloke had to say. “Yellow” was my introduction to Coldplay. Since releasing 2000’s Parachutes, the London quartet have sold more than 32 million records worldwide, filled countless arenas and made legions of Dodge Caravan-driving soccer moms in the process. You know a band is doing something right when you make a phone call to your mother and SHE asks you, “Have you heard the new Coldplay record?” No small feat…
Much has changed in Camp Coldplay since then. While 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head proved this band was destined to “rock” stadiums, 2005’s snoozefest X&Y brought us back to Earth proving that re-hashing singles is not always the brightest of ideas. Exhibit A: X&Y’s “Speed of Sound” tried it’s darndest to match the success of “Clocks” by sounding just like “Clocks.” Exhibit B: “Fix You,” a song that I’m pretty sure GOD wrote was X&Y’s answer to “The Scientist.” The boys we’re in dire need of assistance because the formula was already walking on thin tightropes.
On their fourth installment, the Tex-Mex-titled “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends,” that help comes in the form of producer Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads) to assist in ship-shaping their form. Gone are the power ballads Coldplay are known for and the over-production of their past records. Instead, listeners are treated to a multitude of sonic landscapes, sweeping strings, and a buttload of church organ. Luckily, this change works in Coldplay’s favor showcasing a band that’s capable of writing challenging music rather than worrying about living up to their position as the “Biggest Rock Band in the World.”
I promised myself I wouldn’t mention any other bands in this review, primarily the obvious one that has a letter and a number in it (sigh), but after hearing “Life in Technicolor,” the opening instrumental track off the record, it’s an arduous task not to mention Coldplay’s Dublin doppelgangers. It’s a shimmering two minute piece that opens the album nicely transitioning into “Cemetaries of London,” a drag-of-a-tune that sounds more like Big Country with it’s lagging chants and guitatist Jonny Buckland’s Edge-riffic licks. Now if only these cats can learn some quality jigs for their live show.
As the album progresses, the band explores darker territories. “Lost!” is a well-crafted song mixing powerful organ and drummer Will Champion’s Afro-beats, and “42” is a stunner with it’s unique and daring structure. However, it’s difficult to sympathize with future Sir Chris Martin when he sings “I just got lost…every river that I tried to cross.” Martin has never been known for his profound lyrics and it definitely doesn’t do him or his troupe any favors on Viva la Vida. It hurts the record if anything. “Yes” with it’s “Walk Like an Egyptian” style strings, monitone vocals, and “profound” lyrics could’ve been spared from this record. However, the second half of the song dubbed “Chinese Sleep Chant” is English trance at it’s best. If only I had my glowsticks…
“I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t put an end to all violence and suffering.” Obviously, Martin was joking when he said this about the record in a recent SPIN Magazine interview, but after hearing the mighty one-two punch of Apple iTune’s smash “Viva la Vida” & first single “Violet Hill,” I would not be surprised if this record in fact ended all violence and suffering. Okay, I’m blowing smoke up your ass, but both songs serve as an excellent juxtaposition when describing the album as a whole. Everything from Martin’s fixation between life & death to the album’s awful Revolutionay War cover art that was ripped out of the pages of a 7th grade Social Studies book are embodied nicely during the record’s climax. “Strawberry Swing” is fantastic blending Buckland’s Afro-pop guitar hook and bassist Guy Berryman’s stomping rhythm. However, it’s all brought to a screeching halt when the final track “Death and All His Friends” wraps up the album. Sadly, it’s a trite tune that sounds more X&Y than Viva la Vida. The second half of the song revisits the beginning of the record. “And in the end, we lie awake and we’ll dream of making our escape,” Martin delivers in Abbey Road fashion over Eno’s soundscapes. It’s a comfortable refrain that does not coincide well with the 1st half of the song. And in retrospect, that’s how Coldplay’s Viva la Vida plays out. An easy-flowing record that gets lost periodically in it’s own ambition.
You can hear the title track to the new album below:
Download: Coldplay – Viva La Vida [MP3]