Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends

Capitol/EMI Records LTD.
4 out of 5

I was sick and tired of Coldplay for a good year-and-a-half. I was sick of the hype, sick of the constant radio play and sick of hearing their music and seeing them everywhere, on everything. I was sick of hearing their music from the car windows of bubbly high schoolers, yoga moms, frat boys and middle-aged, Audi-driving professionals. I had developed Coldplay-itis. Then two weeks ago I got their fourth studio album in the mail, loaded it on my iPod, boarded a Florida-bound plane from Denver and hit ‘play.’ Something happened around the time I was over Oklahoma: I fell in love with Coldplay again.

Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends is a snapshot of a band in growth, and after Coldplay’s first three very similar sounding albums this one is a lament to more mature songwriting and extravagant arrangements. Primarily recorded in a church, Viva La Vida finds singer/pianist Chris Martin carrying his usual lyrical themes of love, war, peace, religion and optimism, but this time around his voice is part of the musical landscape, rather than the focal point of their typical four-minute rock-pop songs.

One of the smartest things Coldplay has ever done was hire producer Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Paul Simon) to co-produce Viva La Vida with Markus Dravas and Rik Simpson.

The album’s liner notes announce Eno’s presence perfectly: “Sonic landscapes by Brian Eno.” “Sonic landscapes” is what Eno has brought to the band. Coldplay knew they needed to step forward and grow musically and enlisting Eno was a positive step in the right direction. The result makes Coldplay a new and fresh experience again.

Viva La Vida opens with “Life in Technicolor,” an instrumental piece with electronic sequencing, synthesizers and a Middle Eastern influence that transitions seamlessly into the album’s second track, “Cemeteries of London,” a darker, ambient song in six-time that explodes into an arena pop song at the 46-second mark. The third track, “Lost,” continues with the album’s experimentation, featuring organ, hand claps and hand drums and the rhythmic foundation for singer Chris Martin’s melodic lyrics.

One of the more exciting Coldplay moments happens halfway through the album with two tracks that are actually four songs bundled together as two: “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” and “Yes.” Both of these pieces of music clock in around seven minutes and are chock full of surprises. “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love,” starts with a catchy, repetitive piano melody, driving beat and with soaring electric guitars eventually turns into an arena rocker one would expect from Coldplay. At the four-minute mark things quiet down as the song transitions into its second half and one of Coldplay’s most beautiful songs takes shape with a rolling, water-like piano, ambient bells and gorgeous lyrics and vocal delivery; simply perfect. The track “Yes” follows the same formula, two songs bundled as one, but the first piece is a darker song with a Middle-Eastern string arrangement by Davide Rossi and the later piece is an all out indie-rocker with an unintelligible chorus of lyrics and rare distorted electric guitars.

Highlights from the last third of the album include Coldplay’s first single from the album and title track “Viva La Vida,” the cello-driven “Strawberry Swing” and the last track, “Death and All His Friends.”

Surprises come at strange times and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida was most definitely a surprise. I am sure I will once again be sick of this band by the time this album has sold its 5 million copies, but then again, Viva La Vida gives me hope that they will once again surprise me with their next release. I will enjoy it while I can.

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  1. You should have given this album 5 stars. Are you ever going to give an album 5 stars?

    “I was sick of hearing their music from the car windows of bubbly high schoolers, yoga moms, frat boys and middle-aged, Audi-driving professionals” = hysterically classic!

  2. good review.
    however, you forgot to include the car windows of “suburu wrx driving pseudo-hippies” in your list!

  3. Jonathan Keller on

    Jessica, thanks for reading and posting the feedback and compliment. I will give an album a five start review as soon as one that is worthy of five stars finds my mailbox. 🙂 I will point out that Sera Cahoone’s album (which I reviewed this month) was one or two songs away from a 5 star review. I gave it 4.5 stars.

    Theo, yes, you are correct. I also forgot meth-addicted, menthol-smoking soccer moms and red-faced Bush supporting Republicans.

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