I’ll admit it; I’ve never been a huge fan of Coldplay. Apart from a few of their mainstream hits, I’ve never been totally sold on them. But I decided to give their new album, “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends” an open-minded listen anyway. And while they’re still not my favorite band, they did manage to do a few things right, with a solid album sure to garner them a few new admirers.
“Viva La Vida” is a concept album, which means that most of its songs center around one key motif. The Spanish has several interpretations, but the literal translation is “live life.” The main theme echoed throughout the album is that one must understand that life comes with setbacks, but he or she can either choose to celebrate life to the fullest or live it in misery and death.
“Life in Technicolor” is an excellent album opener that begins as a subdued piano instrumental, but builds to an epic climax. The album’s lead single, also entitled “Viva La Vida,” is the most pop-friendly of the tracks here. The strings give it the classic ‘larger-than-life’ feel of Coldplay, and the open-ended lyrics, with biblical references and allusions to the Spanish Inquisition, are a nice touch. “I used to rule the world/ Seas would rise when I gave the word/ Now in the morning I sleep alone/ Sweep the streets I used to own,” Coldplay frontman Chris Martin wistfully sings.
“42” is one of the strongest songs on the album, both musically and lyrically. The song truly captures the feel of the album’s concept. It starts off with a somber Keane-like piano instrumental as Chris Martin hauntingly chants: “Those who are dead, are not dead/ They’re just living in my head/ And since I fell for that spell/ I am living there as well.” He is soon joined by the rest of the band to break into true Coldplay fashion.
This song, as well as “Life in Technicolor,” and the two title tracks are the best of what “Viva La Vida” has to offer. Most of the others are far from terrible, but they don’t do enough to stand out from the crowd. “Lost,” for example, is not bad, but it sounds too similar to Coldplay’s earlier work.
One thing that I must praise about Coldplay is their consistency throughout. From start to finish, “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends” is what it sets out to be: a pensive, epic concept album. If you’re already a fan of the Coldplay sound, you know just what to expect. For many, Chris Martin’s breathy falsetto and the band’s larger-than-life piano rock feel is an acquired taste. But if you’ve never heard of Coldplay, or have simply found yourself in a Top 40 rut, at the very least, give “Viva La Vida” a listen. You just might like it.
-Robert Burns, II
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