Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
The past few years haven’t been very kind to Coldplay.
After selling nearly 50 million copies worldwide of their first two critically-acclaimed albums, the guys from London disappointed many with 2005’s X&Y, even getting dubbed the “Most Insufferable Band of the Decade” by the New York Times.
To make matters worse, the band became a gay joke punchline in The 40-year-old Virgin, and a media circus surrounded frontman Chris Martin when he and wife Gwyneth Paltrow decided to name their firstborn child after a fruit.
Three years later, Coldplay has reincarnated itself with the appropriately-titled Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (“Long live life!”).
The band has crafted their most daring and experimental effort yet by throwing out the old playbook and enlisting the help of famed producer Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads, David Bowie). Taking a page out of the book of The Arcade Fire, whom Martin once called “the greatest band in history,” Coldplay sought to find itself again by recording in churches everywhere from Latin America to Spain (co-producer Markus Dravs was also an engineer on The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible).
The holy touch pieces together the backbone of Viva la Vida, which is as majestic as it is haunting. Lead single “Violet Hill,” taking its name from a street near Abbey Road, features a distorted, ghostly guitar riff that plays off Martin’s piano line written to evoke memories of his childhood.
“Viva la Vida” is unquestionably the catchiest and most repeat-friendly song Coldplay has ever written. The anthemic title track is as toe-tap happy as it gets even though it is nearly percussionless – drummer Will Champion steadily pounds away with just a bass drum and a mallet while a dramatic string section accompanies Martin’s lament as a deposed French king.
For many years, naysayers have bashed the band for trying too hard to emulate their fellow countrymen Radiohead or attempting to be the “Biggest Band in the World” à la U2. Viva la Vida is neither OK Computer or The Joshua Tree, but the influences that it draws from both work nicely in Coldplay’s favor.
The off-kilter “Yes” borrows from Thom Yorke’s darker stylings, while the instrumental lead track “Life in Technicolor” is sure to give listeners flashbacks to “Where The Streets Have No Name.” And yet, both are also something entirely new for the band.
Viva la Vida thrives on Coldplay’s ability to forget about X&Y and step out of their comfort zone with the help of Eno. The result: A redeeming record that is the perfect combination of shoe-gazing darkness and arena-rock brightness.
Time to find a new punchline, Judd Apatow.
Give these tracks a listen: “Viva la Vida,” “Lost!”
For fans of: Travis, Snow Patrol, U2