Review: Coldplay — Viva La Vida

[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

Coldplay

Capital Records

 

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.

11 thoughts on “Review: Coldplay — Viva La Vida

  1. TW- In our discussions, you have advised how difficult it can be to use words to describe sound. In this review, I believe you accomplished this perfectly. I walk away from this knowing I’ll buy the album today; not because you liked it, but because your description makes me want to experience/compare the sound for myself.
    Very well written, my friend. (and thanks for the shout out 😉

  2. Perhaps I am partial to the reviewer, but having discussed this topic with you as well as music in general provides me further insight into your writing. I love your description of the sound. Your articulation was strong enough for me to hear it in my head, and now that I have the album, I agree with your assessment even more. 😉

  3. Perhaps I am partial to the reviewer

    Perhaps 🙂

    Your articulation was strong enough for me to hear it in my head, and now that I have the album, I agree with your assessment even more.

    Well, agreement is always nice, but I realize that people’s taste will differ, and rightfully so. But the thing I do strive for in reviews is to explain why I hold the opinions I do, so that even if you do disagree you can at least see where I’m coming from. But praise is also nice, so thanks 🙂

    TW

  4. I think the next thing we should do (when time permits) is agree upon a band we both enjoy, listen to a cd not previously known by either of us and compare notes. I think we tend to hear the same things musically, but I think it would be interesting.
    – And TW- your mouse-over is just as creative as your subject lines. 😉

  5. I think the next thing we should do (when time permits)

    … is the key phrase in that sentence 🙂

    is agree upon a band we both enjoy, listen to a cd not previously known by either of us and compare notes.

    You know, Erin, we could have done with *this* album 🙂 I just bought the latest Aimee Mann today, and I’m currently watching R.E.M. perform on Austin City Limits, and it’s reminding me I never bought their Accelerate album, which has gotten a lot of praise from the critics. Also, on Tuesday The Pretenders has a new release; I’ve already heard one of the songs (something about Chinese plastic) and I like it. Are any of these what you have in mind, or is there something else you were thinking of?

  6. TW- I should have figured you would be listening to several different artists at the same time…. Just like an avid reader can read multiple books simultaneously. Given the recent developments in your life, we can postpone this if you wish. The Pretenders sounds good to me. Also, The Killers have a new CD dropping in November. Whatever works. 😉

  7. TW- I should have figured you would be listening to several different artists at the same time…. Just like an avid reader can read multiple books simultaneously.

    I would submit listening to several artists “at the same time” isn’t nearly as hard as reading several books at once (although I do that too, since it takes me so freaking long to get through books these days 🙂 ) To be honest, here’s how it ends up a lot of times: I may buy more than one CD at oncw but I’ll listen to them one at a time over the course of a couple of weeks.

    Given the recent developments in your life, we can postpone this if you wish.

    Well, it doesn’t have to be a big deal, just whenever it lines up…

    The Pretenders sounds good to me.

    Well, Chrissie Hynde is the pride of Kent State, after all (have you ever heard their song “Ohio”?)

    Also, The Killers have a new CD dropping in November. Whatever works.

    I’m slowly starting to like those guys. In the beginning, they seemed overhyped. Their first hit (Girlfriend?) seemed silly with its rambling chorus lyric, and it took me a while to like “Mr. Brightside”. But I took a shining to “Read My Mind” almost immediately, and I notice the latest single sounds a bit similar without being an outright copy…

    So, I’m probably buying The Pretenders, and I might also buy the new Killers, who I know you like, so either of those are possibilities…

  8. The Killers album Hot Fuss (their breakout cd) was a Hot Mess, but I think they kinda fell into a groove when they released Sam’s Town. This is a great CD. They released an album earlier this year that was previously unreleased material (but not new) and it is awesome. I love “tranquilize” on this album as well as “Leave the Bourbon on the shelf.”

    As far as being busy- Just trying to be considerate in knowing your plate is pretty full and don’t want to add to it… but you’re right, music is one of those things you can enjoy while doing something else 😉

    I’m shying away from Amie Mann b/c I think I should listen to her earlier work first– to kinda get an idea of her work/music so I can appreciate her growth/change in sound. I’m having a problem with my ol’ pal Tori Amos for this same reason. LOVED her all the way through Choirgirl Hotel. Since then, she’s killing me, and I’m really wanting to get back into her, but she’s not making it easy!

  9. The Killers album Hot Fuss (their breakout cd) was a Hot Mess

    I was glad to hear that someone else felt that. I have an ageing-hipster buddy who was just crazy about this album, and I just couldn’t hear it. But they do seem to be growing on me with their subsequent releases…

    I’m shying away from Amie Mann b/c I think I should listen to her earlier work first– to kinda get an idea of her work/music so I can appreciate her growth/change in sound.

    Well, if that’s how you wanna roll, you have about nine albums to go through (that’s including the 3 ’til Tuesday releases in the ’80s) Perhaps I’ll do a guide to Aimee Mann post sometime…

    I’m having a problem with my ol’ pal Tori Amos for this same reason. LOVED her all the way through Choirgirl Hotel. Since then, she’s killing me, and I’m really wanting to get back into her, but she’s not making it easy!

    The problem I have with Tori these days is consistency and appeal. But she’s probably been inconsistent for a while now, so maybe it’s more the lack of sufficient appeal. In the past, even if I didn’t care for an entire album, there were usually a song or two that were just amazing. Nowadays I listen to her albums in the stores and, while none of the songs suck, they also don’t seem compelling enough to make me want to buy the CD. I feel bad, because I like her in principle, just not enough to buy her albums any more…

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