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Viva La Vida The Quietus , June 9th, 2008 00:00

Coldplay - Viva La Vida

Given that Coldplay’s third album X&Y was a clunking dogs dinner of a record strewn carelessly across the studio floor and hastily reassembled, it’s reasonable to be more than a little cautious about another much vaunted Chris Martin effort. Dont forget that X&Y came on the back of a press barrage that suggested strongly that the record would save lives, whiten teeth and resolve the Middle-Eastern peace process; it was essentially the biggest bout of PR-led huxterism since the U2’s Pop album (and a strangely similar background story at that). So images of the band dressing as neo-French revolutionaries and claiming that they’d gone deeper and darker into the world of musical experimentation than ever before should be taken with a handful of salt and the repetition of the mantra “This is Coldplay; they are a big stadium rock band who are good at melodies, they will not reinvent the wheel.”

Once that thought is firmly lodged in your head, it’s a lot easier to assess that Vida La Vida is both far, far better than its clunking predecessor and in its own right a fine and interesting album. It certainly doesn’t drag you down rabbit holes of musical strangeness and wonderment, and the addition of Brian Eno at the helm guarantees only nice sonic ideas rather than the flawless execution of an audio new world order, but Vida La Vida is the thinking man’s stadium rock record, which really, is the whole point of Coldplay. It pushes rather than directly challenges and suggests rather than clouts you round the back of the head with strangeness, which is the way it should be. And for that, we and probably their record company are grateful.

’Life in Technicolour’

The intro of this instrumental track sounds for a second like something from Kid A with gently shimmering synths before that all familiar acoustic guitar begins to strum away, pointing you more towards Bono-territory than the paroxysms of noise of Yorke and company. Clearly meant as a statement of intent, but inevitably poses more questions rather than bludgeoning you with answers.

’Cemeteries of London’

More traditional fare from Martin, as he gently whispers slews of semi-myth making lyrics that probably don’t stand up to greater scrutiny. The calm of ghost towns in the ocean is broken by a sea shanty-like chant of la la, la la la la, while the song is propelled by a clean clipped beat. “There is no light over London today”, intones Martin. Yes, but what does it all mean?


That now traditional Coldplay church organ makes its sombre appearance and we’re on familiar footing. “Just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean I’m lost”, the frontman enigmatically intones from the start. It doesn’t get too much more inspired as Mr Paltrow continues to spit out contradictory couplets like a junior Michael Stipe. Musically though, it bears the hallmarks of an Eno production; enough clarity not to be declared murky, but it still feels like you’re staring into a cloudy pool of mystic water.


“Those who are dead, are not dead, they’re just living in my head”, Chris Martin rather disturbingly claims. Another sombre reflection on life, death and all the syrupy bits in between, it waltzes along gracefully on a bed of unobtrusive orchestration until halfway through the song snaps into something more biting; the violins begin to scale the walls and guitars begin to slash through the speakers, before a rush of crystal chorus streams out. “You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close”, we are giddily informed. Proof finally, that the band have been consciously experimenting with their arrangements. Intriguing and gratifying.

’Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love’

A slice of pure eighties infused pop, nibbling at the hems of the Psychedelic Furs and the band’s beloved Echo & The Bunnymen, but with a sweeter touch. The ivories twinkle and guitars trail in an Edge-lite manner in fact it sounds like a less self-conscious rendition of U2s ’City of Blinding Lights’. Essentially it’s all Coldplay’s big stadium backlit rock moments curled into one and proof that melody will never desert Martin, regardless of any desire to bury it all in what to him sounds like on-the-edge experimentation. The song segues into a gentle piano lullaby, which seemingly is the ’Reign of Love’ part of the song. It’s merely pleasantly non-descript though.

’Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant’

Another two-for-one special from the quartet, although there’s nothing to distinguish the two tracks from each other, if they are meant to be separate at all; Regardless, the ’Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant’ is probably the stand-out radio-humping track from the album which also means that its among the best songs on the record. Essentially ’Speed of Sound’ with Brian Wilson drum rolls and lush strings replacing soaring guitars, it’s a lovely piece of melody and astute chord changes. Think of a birds-eye view of Scrooge spinning round in the snow on Christmas day, redeemed and reborn; well this is the song that would be played. For once the lyrics fail to grate, and even though they reference Saint Peter and missionaries in foreign fields it all feels rather apt.

’Viva La Vida’

One of those clattering modern rock songs that always feel clumsy in Coldplay’s hands, 'Viva La Vida' hears the narrator droning that God only knows, I’m trying my best with the listener having a sneaking suspicion that he’s not being entirely truthful. Based around a Balkans-lite violin signature, it sounds like the sort of thing that Elbow knock off in their sleep. Suddenly though, it becomes a soothing My Bloody Valentine homage, all falsetto vocals and Bernard Sumner guitar effects. It’s a highly odd occurrence, but an entirely welcome one. It will confuse the people languishing at the back of the stadiums this autumn though.

’Violet Hill’

The opening single as it were called back in the day. Familiar to millions already, it was evidently chosen for its reaching chorus and ready-made bombast. It really isn’t among the best things on the record though, and smacks of the song that Guy Hands chose in his chauffeured car on the way to work.

’Strawberry Swing’

Far better than Violet Hill and sounding like it was recorded on the distorted overdub tapes of ’Everything’s Not Lost’, ’Strawberry Swing’ is a lovely ruminating track. Muted and pastoral it exudes a lightness of touch that the band so often fail to display. It’s such a perfect day, declares Martin over a gentle clatter of drums and Bucklands-looped, forever lost guitar. Gently affecting and hints strongly of the musical suggestion of Mr Eno. ’Death and All His Friends’

Sounding like all the remaining ideas from their long recording sessions assembled together for one last hurrah, ’Death and All His Friends’ strangely reminds of Broken Social Scene more than anything, thanks to its persistent gang vocals and dreamy campfire rock vibe, before mutating into the start of Fleetwood Mac’s ’Everywhere’ done in the style of Coldplay at a kids’ Sunday Service, but in no way bad for it. A fine ending to a record that takes the wheel, polishes it a bit and adds a couple of fancy clackers and shiny beads before gently reattaching it, taking care not to ruin anything.