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Viva la Coldplay!

Shane Steinberg | Friday, September 5, 2008

If 2005’s “X&Y” was Coldplay’s way of becoming more commercial and connecting with the masses, then their latest album, “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” must be the band’s way of showing that they can be boldly experimental while still connecting with the masses. Three years in the making, Viva la Vida is, as it’s opening track “Life in Technicolor” suggests, bursting with color and life. Chris Martin, Johnny Buckland, Will Champion, and Guy Berryman are still the Coldplay we have grown to know and love with their brooding ballads and heartfelt songs about love, and doubts and fears, but this time around they’ve put their musical chops on full display en route to recreating their sound. It may not connect with listeners as much as “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and it most certainly isn’t as dreamy and moodily dramatic as their debut album “Parachutes,” but “Viva la Vida,” despite its shortcomings, is in fact a resounding experimental success that has solidified Coldplay’s status as one today’s finest bands.

From the band’s newly dawned 19th century French peasant army attire, to the album artwork, to the title track, Coldplay seems to scream revolution from every which way. It’s no “OK Computer” or “The Joshua Tree”. Then again, Coldplay isn’t exactly sticking to their formula this time around. Sure, tracks like “Lovers in Japan” and “Lost?” could have come from any other Coldplay album, but they’re still worthy nonetheless. Meanwhile “42” sounds like nothing before it while “Lost!,” “Chinese Sleep Chant”, and “Strawberry Swing,” although not revolutionary, are surely uncharted waters for Coldplay.

Viva la Vida starts off quite appropriately with a beautifully celebratory instrumental prelude that truly lives up to its name, “Life in Technicolor”. Next up is “Cemeteries of London”, which despite its dreary name is actually mellow, and sees Martin’s voice operating at a lower register, which is quite common throughout the album. Following “Cemeteries of London” are a host of truly engrossing, contemplative songs, that includes the likes of “Lost!” with its drum-circle flare and engaging lyrics, “Lovers in Japan”, a pure Coldplay ballad with a great hook, the title track “Viva la Vida”, a truly inventive, unbelievably catchy portrayal of a dethroned king recounting his fall from power, but the true standout in the album is “42.” Ingeniously dark and artistically abrasive, “42”, with its brooding lyrics and sudden change of course into what initially seems like a completely different song, is the revolution Coldplay had been hoping to achieve with this album.

Of course “Viva la Vida” does have its fair share of missteps. To being with, it is overproduced and spotty in both quality and in delivering a central message with each song. Songs like “Chinese Sleep Chant” which, lets face it, is better off skipped than listened to, and “Reign Of Love” have no business being in the album. “Chinese Sleep Chant” sounds like a bad impression of My Bloody Valentine and “Reign Of Love” almost feels like a rehashed version of “A Rush Of Blood to the Head” minus the artistic genius. Redefining one’s sounds isn’t always a good thing when an editing eye isn’t used, and such is definitely the case with “Viva la Vida.”

When all is said and done, “Viva la Vida” isn’t Coldplay’s best album. It simply takes a longer time to digest, because, upon first listen it tends to bewilder rather than immediately pierce the listener like Coldplay’s first two studio albums did. In the end, however, “Viva la Vida,” which to this point has topped charts throughout the world and has produced a No.1 hit single, is a grand creative leap for a band that has already proven its immense artistic capacity as well as its ability to have commercial success while staying true to itself.