Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends


Capitol, 2008

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


I never thought I’d be writing this review, because, to be honest, I’ve always found Coldplay -- well, too boring to even bother with. Besides 2000’s Parachutes, the band’s mostly solid, lovelorn debut, the rest of their material tended to follow a predictable formula: lofty soundscapes à la U2, a catchy chorus, and lead singer Chris Martin’s signature sappiness. All in all, it was basically a watered-down aping of Radiohead, and despite the occasional moments of loveliness, it’s not too hard to see how Coldplay was voted The Band Most Likely To Put You To Sleep, beating out fellow Briton James Blunt.

And then came “Violet Hill,” the leadoff single from the band’s latest album, Viva La Vida Or Death And All his Friends. Launching out with a sonic fade-in a little reminiscent of “Where The Streets Have No Name” (which is where legendary producer Brian Eno comes in to lift the band to new, soaring heights), the song soon builds to a flurry of stomping drumbeats and distorted slashes of guitars that provide a chilly backing for some of the album’s most evocative and daring lyrics (“When the future’s architectured by a carnival of idiots on show / You better lie low,” “Priests clutched onto Bibles, hollowed out to fit their rifles”). It’s, in a single word, stunning; it’s absolutely the opposite of everything I was convinced Coldplay was, miles apart from the mellow flimsiness of songs like “Yellow.”nbtc__dv_250

Of course, things still sound like Coldplay, and Martin is still that same loveable sap. Only, this time, everything is fleshed out, expansive but not cluttered (as was the pitfall of 2005’s X&Y): tracks like “Strawberry Swing” and “Lovers In Japan / Reign of Love” keep the sweetness but layer in a slew of instruments and aren’t afraid to veer away from the typical verse-chorus-verse setup.

All you need to do is compare “Lost!” with the acoustic version, “Lost?”, which was tagged on to the ITunes release of the album, to see how far Coldplay has come. It’s amazing what a stray exclamation point can do: stripped down, “Lost?” is nice, but altogether unremarkable. On the other hand, the Viva La Vida version is outfitted with jangling, almost tribal drums, upbeat handclaps, and a solid guitar break, making it a punchy stunner definitely deserving of single release.

Martin’s lyrics can get a little obtuse for me, which makes songs like the album’s grounded yet evocative title track all the more memorable. Combining Jonny Buckland’s majestic, sweeping guitar sound with jaunty synths, this ode to a deposed ruler (“One minute I held the key / Next the walls were closed on me / And I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand”) is alternately bright and ominous, and it’s easily a contender for being the album’s standout.

The album’s overriding preoccupation with death is surprisingly invigorating. “Cemeteries Of London” is wonderfully eerie, full of paranoid piano runs and slow-burning guitars, while closer “Death And All His Friends” is nothing short of epic, building to the rallying cry “No, I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge / I don’t wanna follow Death and all of his friends” before drifting out to the quiet, sonically lovely strains of its second part, “The Escapist.”

Admittedly, a little bit of change goes a long, long way with Coldplay. Nevertheless, this record is a triumph for the group: it’s a little gritty, a lot catchy, and always beautiful, just now with more substance. Best of all, it reveals a band truly dedicated to the art of their craft.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B


© 2008 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.