Coldplay fans rejoice: Viva La Vida has arrived! This album, the band's fourth, is a big deal as Coldplay strives for that sweet spot between critical success and broad appeal. This time out, Chris Martin and co. have brought in famed U2 producer Brian Eno to help take their sound in new and interesting directions.
Viva La Vida is indeed experimental but not in a way that will alienate fans. Many critics had a viscerally angry reaction to to 2005's X&Y (the New York Times declared Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade" after that effort – ouch, right?), but Viva La Vida is just the kind of album you want a band of this stature to release mid-career.
Martin and his mates retain all the epic instrumentals that give Coldplay its signature amphitheater rock sound but apply an obvious amount of self-restraint to the album, making it fun without putting you to sleep. The band refrains from repeating choruses over and over again (ahem, "Fix You") and steers clear of the self-pitying lyrics of albums past, instead focusing on themes around war, religion, and the nature of love.
Viva La Vida is something borrowed and something new for Coldplay, and I'm pleasantly surprised and happy with the result. After giving the entire album a whirl, I feel like I’ve listened to a soundtrack of a sweeping epic that spans wars, generations, and the globe.
To see my initial thoughts on each of the tracks,
- "Life in Technicolor": A briskly urgent instrumental that layers techno sounds with an acoustic guitar. Sets the mood for an album that will sample sounds from around the world.
- "Cemeteries of London": Starts in right away with soft, dark lyrics and moody instrumentals. Sounds like Chris Martin is telling me a ghost story about London. The guitar picks up and there are "singing la la la"s. This is one of my favorites on the album.
- "Lost!": Big organ sound along with hand-claps. This song is a funny blend between U2 and maybe Peter Gabriel. Definitely has a world beats vibe going on. I like it.
- "42": Soft, stripped-down start with piano and lovely vocals by Martin. Feels somewhat inspired by John Lennon in the beginning. Eventually crests to something more electronic with a long instrumental, then becomes altogether upbeat and peppy, with these lyrics: "You thought you might be a ghost/You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close!"
- "Lovers in Japan": One of the most interesting songs on the album, this one stands far apart. It's gorgeous and upbeat with a clear influence from the far East. I don't know if this could be a hit single, but it sure is good.
- "Yes": Has a Middle Eastern flavor to it and really crazy low vocals from Martin. He's singing an octave or three dozen below his normal range. It's jarring in a good way. I really like this song.
- "Viva La Vida": This is the "iTunes commercial song." While it has all the trademark instrumentals that are grandiose enough to fill a giant stadium, there's no clear and easy point for a crowd sing-a-long which makes it interesting and unexpected.
- "Violet Hill": The big hit of the summer. If you haven't heard it by now, check it out; you'll want it on your playlist right away.
- "Strawberry Swing": A pretty song. It's more sitar sounds with an urgent thumping beat and lyrics about a perfect day. This is a refreshingly brighter tune compared to the emotional songs on the rest of the album.
- "Death and All His Friends": This is the most earnest song on the album, with the entire band singing, "I don't wanna follow death and all of his friends!" Again, there is no obvious chorus or hook, and the structure of the song is definitely pushing Coldplay boundaries.
- "Lost?": Just like the first song with the same name — but slower and all piano, with Martin singing his heart out, which is where's it's always been: on his sleeve.