Through some logic beyond my cynical vision, the masses are rabid for this new Coldplay album. When the Yellow hitmakers released the first single Violet Hill as a free download on April 29th, 2 million people downloaded it in a week. The song is good, a promising indication of the band’s evolution, but it’s gonna take a lot more than that to convince me that there’s no end to the downward spiral of mainstream tastes. So, still not swallowing the ’50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong’ pill, I downloaded the leak last night with skepticism on high.
See, I badly wanted to hate this album. I’m no fan of Coldplay, and had every intention of declaring instrumental electro-pop opener Life In Technicolor the best song on the record, for the simple fact that Chris Martin’s pillowy melodic annoyance is mercifully absent. The entire thing could be a backing track for an old Death Cab For Cutie song, and that’s really not a bad thing. But goddamnit, the ‘oooh oooh’s around the two minute mark (which appear in more epic form three minutes into title track Viva La Vida) are subtly and beautifully epic in a way that bands don’t seem to know how to put together anymore.
Coldplay have apparently taken lessons in grandiosity this time around, with Martin setting out to explore a decidedly lower singing range and Jonny Buckland’s guitar work taking on a more majestic tone than on any of their previous work. Electro wizard producer Brian Eno has helped the band build a surprisingly organic-sounding album with Viva La Vida, Or Death And All His Friends. It’s full of shimmering synth meanderings, string sections and soaring piano movements that weave tightly with Martin’s ruminative obsessions with duality (couldn’t even decide on one name for the record), delivered in a much more evolved manner than I certainly wanted to give them credit for.
The haunting atmosphere intro to Cemeteries Of London sets the tone for an impressive, rising sound with underlying tones of, uh, Riverdance? Buckland’s searing solo minimalism pierces the thick rhythmic fog while Martin lays a darker variation of the standard platinum-megnet melody, conducting a backup chorus that’s eerie and Gaelic as well.
Lost!– Stomping handclaps and funked out church organs lend a gospel air to this one, building to a crescendo that’s disappointingly lacking in mojo, and even reeks of Radiohead theft.
If you want to talk about rising sounds however, 42 is a good place to start. Pensive piano chords are the backdrop to Martin’s shotgun-in-the-mouth fagcore vocals, making for an underwhelming suicide theme song until about 90 seconds in when the pace changes and things pick up rapidly. That’s when shit gets epic, bursting with energy and more of those fucking handclaps.
Lovers In Japan starts off with gleaming pianos in outer space before bursting into a galloping arena-pop piece that would serve as a great show-closer. The song takes you into the narrated moment, and it’s a lot more heterosexual than the bonus acoustic version.
Reign Of Love is a dreamy roll through heaven’s flowerbeds, delicate and distant. There’s a beauty to this song that truly threatens to make me a fan of this band, but Yes is wounded, middle-of-the-road and never really goes anywhere. Nice guitars, but otherwise skiptastic.
Chinese Sleep Chant is hazy, with lyrics you can’t understand, but it’s oddly hypnotic. Feels like staring out the window of a fast-moving train after breaking up with your girlfriend. But you did the breaking up, not her.
Are you sick of Violet Hill yet? Because it’s going to be on all kinds of commercials and “Remember the 00’s” compilations until nuclear armageddon hits. It needs no description. Good jam.
Strawberry Swing is pretty and captivating in a light, Beatlesque kind of way, but it sticks to safe ground and feels half-hearted. No room for that if you’re trying to make an epic album.
Death And All His Friends is another rising tide, and an impressive reminder that the band’s live show will hit a new high with these songs. But after the wave crashes the song rolls back out to sea, allowing the Escapist to glide in on translucent wings to close the album with a reprise of the opener. Pretty pianos and pulsing synths give way to Martin singing And in the end / We lie awake and we dream of making an escape, before the song lifts into the stratosphere.
On their fifth release, Coldplay occasionally veer perilously close to U2’s turf (Lovers in Japan, 42), but they do so sparingly. My only real complaint here is the overall sense that the band is trying to be all things to everybody with this record, and it results in a bipolar atmosphere that lacks a sense of direction. Are we celebrating life and spiritual evolution? Or mourning the cost of revolution? You never can quite tell.
Biased premonitions aside, however, Coldplay’s fifth offering is unpretentious enough to take its name from a painting by Frida Kahlo (it translates to “live the life”), even though the cover art features the French painting Liberty Leading The People, which about as pretentious as they come (I told you the album was bipolar). It’s good enough to satiate the devoted, and although it won’t move mountains or part the seas, it’s probably enough convert a good amount of new blood.
Overall, Viva La Vida, Or Death And All His Friends qualifies as an epic musical piece. it’s an album by a band who’s harnessed a winning formula and pushed it to a new level, adding some flair along the way.
Viva La Vida, Or Death And All His Friends
June 12, 2008
1. Life In Technicolor
2. Cemeteries Of London
5. Lovers In Japan
6. Reign Of Love
8. Chinese Sleep Chant
9. Viva La Vida
10. Violet Hill
11. Strawberry Swing
12. Death And All His Friends
13. The Escapist
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.