Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends


Capitol, 2008

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


As big a band as Coldplay is, Chris Martin and company wouldn’t have been also as widely hated had they not reached celebrity status of such huge proportions. What’s worse is that the degree of all this loathing has taken precedence over Coldplay’s music to the extent that a certain guilt looms over Martin and his bandmates, causing them to want to prove that they are really good and that they aren’t big simply by chance. And to justify their superstardom, with every album they have tried to push their sound as if to prove that they can be as good as they are big.

Have they been successful in this endeavor? No. Not in a million years. However, this effort has still managed to yield three solid albums, and this fourth one, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends. Radical Coldplay might not be. However, they are still an amazing pop-rock group. But of all their records, Viva takes the biggest leap away from the quintessential “Coldplay” sound.

Right off the bat, there are no sentimental ballads on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Viva. This is a huge change from what had become a prominent feature on every Coldplay record until now. Piano is totally absent from the foreground. Wherever present, the sounds are muted, and their prettiness is more aural than in-your-face, like on “Death And All His Friends” where the piano sound has silhouette-like effect, giving the song a laidback, Jack Johnson-like appeal. On other songs, like “Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love,” the piano plays a percussive role in tandem with the drums, sounding more interesting than sweet.

Also, on previous records, the songs were largely driven by melody, but on Viva, the band has tried to sound askew on a good number of songs that lack any melody but instead feature some interesting arrangements thrown together, like the marching rhythm on “Violet Hill,” vocals that go out of tune on “42,” and the unpredictable beat pattern on “Yes” coupled with Martin’s completely impassive vocals. Still, the songs are accessible, and maybe striking this fine balance between weirdness and pleasantness has got to do with having recruited Brian Eno as the producer for this record, who shaped the music of similar acts like James and U2.

There are plenty of other things that make Viva a very different Coldplay record, like the world music theme that lingers throughout, from Indian (“Life In Technicolor”) to Arabic (“Yes”) to Asian (“Lovers In Japan”), and the splitting of songs into two -- though unrelated -- parts (“Yes,” “Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love,” “Death and All His Friends”), which enhance the album’s personality.

If this move to come up with something different and unexpected is a conscious one, it doesn’t show in the music at all. Coldplay sounds confident and seems pretty comfortable in this new skin. Even changing up their sound with aims of adding eccentricity, Viva is still wonderfully accessible.

One doesn’t have to be as beautifully edgy as The Smiths or as psychedelic as The Verve or as radical as Radiohead to be a great band. Coldplay has given something as universal -- and oftentimes prosaic -- as pop-rock a completely new perspective, and therein lies the greatness of this band. Even the scorners and naysayers would agree to this.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B



© 2008 Vish Iyer 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.