Review Summary: I used to rule the world...
Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends' (hereon referred to as solely 'Viva La Vida') came to me at an interesting time. My former house, situated in westernmost Canada, was amidst burying itself in packing tape and cardboard boxes as my family slowly but surely filled a moving truck up with our extortionate belongings. Four weeks prior to the "big move" (interior British Columbia to Tijuana, Mexico), a physical copy of 'Viva La Vida' - an impulse purchase my father made at a Starbucks counter - benignly appeared on top of the dining room stereo, subsequently becoming the soundtrack to the trying and peaceably awkward time of my life that was the pre-move; the calm before the storm, per se. I can vividly recall my first experience of the album: popping the disc into the car stereo while driving across town to a beach party that would ultimately become the last time I saw my extended circle of friends (developed acquaintances, at best). I recall being slightly stunned at the remarkable (and really quite delicious) change in sound and composition. I was so phased by what I had heard on the car drive over that for the majority of time I spent "socializing", I was really thinking about Chris Martin's oddly low range in 'Yes' or the commanding organ that parades 'Lost!' around. After that first encounter, the record became a part of my very being that summer; 'Violet Hill' was the song I was humming while doing crossword puzzles with my coworkers at lunch break, 'Cemeteries of London' was the song playing when a friend and I went out to rent a drum kit (double bass and all) and 'Viva La Vida' was the song that followed me everywhere via obnoxious overplaying on the local radio stations.
Now, whenever I hear even the first opening notes of the instrumental opener 'Life in Technicolor', I'm immediately taken back to my life before Mexico. My psychological connection with the album was so deep-rooted with this period in my life that when I grew increasingly wary and homesick in the trying months of winter earlier this year, I was incapable of even listening to the album. However, in light of my recent visit to the homeland and my new-found commitment to optimism, I've been able to rediscover 'Viva La Vida' and strengthen my "emotional connection" with it both musically and nostalgically. Admittingly, my viewing of the album as a "classic" doesn't come wholly out of the music in it's own, much of the rating is nostalgic - I don't however see that as an issue; it's not unobjective, it's making music a personal affair.
That being said, 'Viva La Vida' is undoubtedly quite musically brilliant. Given the context of it's predecessors - extended U2 and Radiohead emulations brimming with ready-for-radio piano-pop anthems (which I never thought to be bad in the first place; I quite enjoyed X&Y) - the musical content on 'Viva La Vida' is edgier, weirder and much more experimental than anything Coldplay had created in the past. What makes 'Viva La Vida' so different from the group's previous outings? The fact that a piano doesn't appear in the front of the mix until the fourth song (the mood-shifting, haunting '42') in itself is quite a shot to the typical Coldplay formula. The fact that Chris Martin doesn't meander ethereally with his distinctive falsetto for the entire record is equally unfamiliar for the band. The fact that the compositions are completely less conventional with songs like 'Yes' and '42' bring Coldplay into near progressive-pop-rock territory. Predictably? Not in the slightest. The completely instrumental opener 'Life in Technicolor', as I mentioned before, was quite a shock with it's unconventional behavior, wordless delivery and eclectic instrumentation. The subsequent 'Cemeteries of London', a 6/8 gallop of an acoustically led rock song that serves as both an introductory to Chris Martin's improved lyricism and Coldplay's improved songwriting, and 'Lost!', an anthemic organ-led radio-single with an incredibly addictive production courtesy Brian Eno, also speak lengths about the band's progression, with their eccentric instrumental choices taking each song one step further away from being generic.
"Classic" Coldplay also makes a hefty appearance on 'Viva La Vida': 'Lovers In Japan/Reign of Love' is essentially a new-and-improved, overhaul of every piano ballad the band has ever done just as 'Strawberry Swing' is a careful remake of X&Y's 'A Message' -- yet these blatantly familiar songs don't come close to being self-plagiarized; if anything, it's just the band perfecting and rounding out their assuredly evolved sound. In other instances, subtle injections of less-ambitious Coldplay is tastefully inserted into the songs, such as the customary piano introduction to the epic closer 'Death And All His Friends' or the extended outro to 'Yes'. Elements that weren't
carried over in Coldplay's transition to experimentalism are thankfully absent (obviously): Chris Martin no longer abuses his falsetto, he no longer exercises tired cliche after tired cliche (he traded "You don't have to be on your own/Your heavy heart is made of stone" for "We go underneath the arches where the witches are in the saying/There are ghost towns in the ocean") and he no longer writes lifeless and lulling tunes like 'Warning Sign'. As a whole, 'Viva La Vida' is Coldplay shaving off the unnecessary parts of their core sound and drowning it in their new found production and influences. Perfect, no?
Yes, perfect. 'Viva La Vida' is a perfect album. During the 45 minutes of it's enticing running time, there is not one glaring fault. Every gleaming second of the record is perfectly placed and intricately selected while simultaneously remaining the same simplistic and minimalist band that so much of the world managed to fall in love with when 'Yellow' crept into the radios so many years ago. From the steady swell that introduces the album to the reversed contracting notes that end it, 'Viva La Vida' is flawless. Personal opinion? Possibly. Unobjective? Perhaps. Perhaps it's being unobjective to admit that I'm not writing this review as a critic, I'm writing this review as more of thank you letter. This review wasn't written for the critical analysis of the music; it wasn't written to dissect and evaluate each and every trivial nuance of Chris Martin's follicles, it was written to describe an album on moreso a personal level. Too often is music put under vehement critical scrutiny in an attempt to appeal to casual consumers and too little is music legitimately enjoyed. In my life, I've found that there's usually one album that represents a certain period of my life for me, an album that tugs for me to reminisce. Using albums as a tool for reminiscing isn't objective and it isn't an accurate assessment for the masses -- but whether I put 'Viva La Vida' under a bright light and interrogate it for flaws (which is useless, the album is brilliant) or whether I enjoy the album for it's nostalgic sake and allow it resonate with me on a personally level, 'Viva La Vida' is unforgettable.