[Type Writer Notes: It’s been a while since I’ve posted, which might have been disappointing to all six of my regular readers. To make up for this, I’ve given you a longer-than-normal post. Also, Erin hasn’t bought this album yet, so I thought she’d want to read what I thought of it.]
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
During promotion for their previous release X&Y, frontman of this English group Chris Martin made pronouncements about unseating U2 as the top rock band in the world. Perhaps their hiring of Brian Eno to produce Viva La Vida was to this end, since this veteran English producer was responsible for such classic U2 albums as The Joshua Tree and their most recent release, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.
Eno is primarily known for his emphasis on the experimental, and his influence on the Coldplay sound is felt immediately. Whereas the previous release owed much to the classic English rock of the ‘70s, this album begins with an instrumental track called “Life In Technicolor” that manages to flow from pulsing synthesizer patterns to Indian rhythm to all-out rock in the space of two and a half minutes. After stopping to a dime, the track quickly cross-fades into “Cemeteries Of London”, a mysterious ballad that turns into a jig driven by acoustic guitar, handclaps and a singalong chorus.
The following track “Lost!” is a defiant anthem powered by organ, a thunderous rhythm and fiery lyrics. Not until the fourth track is anything remotely resembling the previous album to be heard: the somber piano ballad “42” seems to be an embodiment of the album’s alternate title: “Those who are dead are not dead/They’re just living in my head.” But the sadness here is abandoned halfway through in favour of more uptempo rock with experimental rhythm and a more optimistic outlook on death: “You thought you might be a ghost/You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close”. Even the brief reprise of the piano-ballad section at the end the track doesn’t seem as sad as it had been before, perhaps due to the addition of a light string arrangement.
The influence of Eno’s other client U2 is felt most strongly in “Lovers In Japan”, which starts off with a ringing guitar tone that owes much to The Edge, then follows that up with a rhythmic piano pattern that sounds like that guitarist’s sound transposed to another instrument. Throw in a pulsing bassline and the song is virtually a slowed-down version of the U2 classic “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The second half of the track “Reign of Love”, joined to the first by a brief section of studio noises, is a mannered piano piece that might not have sounded out of place in an English conservatory, but even this section owes a subtle sonic debt to U2, with its subtle organ and delay-heavy guitar accompaniment.
The follow-on track, “Yes” seems teeming with a myriad of influences from the other stalwart of the British rock scene, The Beatles. After opening with a brief string intro reminiscent of “I Am The Walrus”, Martin embarks on a McCartneyesque vocal, punctuated periodically with an Indian-influenced orchestral riff. Like its predecessor, this track is really two short songs joined by a short interlude of silence; the second half of the track is a raucous affair, reminiscent of the final section of the opening track.
The album’s lead-off single, the string-driven “Vida La Vida” was initially featured in an iTunes commercial, and achieved near-ubiquitous airplay this summer, having been embraced by numerous radio formats. Easily the album’s most exhilirating track, the song also achieves some style points for incorporating reggae lyrics (“It was a wicked and wild affair”) into a rock context.
At first, this album might not seem as accessible as its predecessor, but ultimately it may be more rewarding, as each track’s merits become more apparent with each listen. So hopefully the pairing of Coldplay with Brian Eno will live a long and fruitful life.