CD Review of Viva la Vida by Coldplay
Recommended if you like
U2, Doves, Snow Patrol
Coldplay: Viva la Vida

Reviewed by David Medsker


he way some magazines (ahem, Time) are describing the build-up to the release of Viva la Vida, the newest album from Coldplay, you’d think that Seth Rogen was the most powerful man in the world. He makes one throwaway comment about the band serving as a measuring stick of another man’s gayness, and suddenly the band is fighting for its life? This is what Chicagoans would call a Mariotti, so named after the Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti, who has a tendency to stir up trouble when he has nothing else to talk about. So Chuck Klosterman hates Coldplay as well. How fashionable and cool of him.

The article does mention that Coldplay singer Chris Martin readily admits that they achieved international success well before they necessarily earned it, and we do not contest that point one bit. The band’s 2000 debut, Parachutes, had its moments but was clearly the work of a band still figuring itself out. They came more into focus on their sophomore album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, but their ascension to rock’s upper tier got the best of them on X&Y; instead of being themselves, they pretended to be what they thought the public wanted them to be, and there is no room at the top for a band that plays it safe.

Perhaps that is why Martin and his mates were so determined to make a record that stood apart from their previous work – they knew that they owed us one. Hiring Brian Eno to produce is a good start (though it won’t dispel those U2 comparisons), but in the end the band just can’t help but get in its own way. Viva la Vida is a significant upgrade over X&Y from a sonic perspective, eschewing their ballad-arena rocker formula for some international flavor. However, it is now clear that Coldplay will never change the world, which is the unspoken criteria for entry into the Biggest Band in the World club (see: U2, Radiohead, REM). Perhaps we should set up a “Non-Heroes” subcategory.

Several songs on Viva la Vida are actually two songs rolled into one, though it is not clear if that is by design or the result of producer Eno cutting and pasting his favorite bits together. (You could make a persuasive argument for either.) “42” starts off as one of those mopey ballads before launching into one of the most energetic bits the band has ever done, while “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” does just the opposite, beginning with a bouncy, widescreen piano riff and ending with another mopey piano piece. “Yes!” repeats the “42” pattern of going from slow to fast. Apparently, going from upbeat to a different kind of upbeat was not an option.


The single songs, as it were, fare much better. The title track, with its splashy iPod commercial, is the Coldplay equivalent of “Tonight, Tonight,” with sweeping strings and melodrama by the pound. The opening instrumental “Life in Technicolor” has a riff – is that a harpsichord? – is that is not far removed from the one in Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Lead single “Violet Hill” is a strange one, never leaving second gear but surging with passive-aggressive menace. Sequencing it towards the album’s second half in favor of the more rhythmic tracks – “Cemeteries in London,” “Lost?,” the back half of “42,” “Lovers in Japan” – was a smart move. Who says no one takes the album concept seriously anymore?

You can’t help but feel a little sorry for Coldplay at this juncture. They are a very good band, and Martin’s singing is stronger and more focused with each new release. However, in order to live up to their overly lavish praise, they need to make an album that is nothing short of a life-altering masterpiece. Viva la Vida is good and occasionally great, but life-altering it is not. Is this where the backlash officially begins? It seems that way, though shouldn’t that kind of thing only happen when someone releases a bad album?

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