Review Summary: A soaring, over the top, and exquisite piece of work, that is also one of the most complete and satisfying albums in recent memory.
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends would have been a once in a lifetime album for just about any band that made it, except for Coldplay. To Coldplay, this album was just another million seller, another multi platinum hit on both sides of the Atlantic. But, there's more than meets the eye this time around. Delving deeper into their influences and simultaneously expanding their sound and technique, the band paints a vivid picture through their music in the true romantic style. Gone were the days of simple love songs about a color. Now with experience and more maturity under their belts, Coldplay began to illustrate their music just as if it were a painting, dramatically sweeping back and forth with exhilarating rhythms and soaring vocals, like brushes sweeping across a blank canvas.
One may argue that Viva La Vida was the product of the band being disillusioned about their status in the music world, in the same sort of way that the Beatles created Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to symbolically escape the hype constantly revolving around them. It was almost universally upheld that Coldplay could do no wrong on their first three albums. Each one had been slightly different from the last, undoubtedly because the band had not only become more mature, but also because they realized that being completely stagnant with their compositions would cause the ultimate demise of the band in the long run. Parachutes was more soft spoken, A Rush of Blood To The Head was more lyrically insightful and bigger sounding, and X&Y was more technical and experimental. Viva La Vida was all that and more. Finally, the band sounded completely comfortable on their recordings; the almost whispering Chris Martin that quietly told us that “I wrote a song for you/and all the things you do” at the beginning of the decade had now completely emerged from his shell and became a true rock star, now asking us extravagantly “oh, who would ever want to be king?”
The band continued to utilize different sounds as they did on X&Y, and with the help of mastermind producer Brian Eno, who was known for his airy, atmospheric productions of the past, the band created an album that is immediately rewarding to the casual radio listener, but also cohesive if viewed as one piece of art. On the surface, the title track “Viva La Vida” is the strongest, and the most radio accessible track on the album. It was an odd thing really. For a few weeks, a British rock song not only topped the charts, but everyone liked it, everyone knew the words, and no one ever disagreed to listening to it. It brought people together for four minutes, with it's urgent strings, its interweaving piano melodies and vocals, the timpani, the giant bells and all the rest. And when you heard it, you immediately became engulfed in the world that Chris Martin was describing in his lyrics. That's the mark of a truly great song.
Upon multiple listens, however, Viva La Vida as a whole may be the most rewarding rock album of the last decade. For the truly passionate, one finds that song after song effortlessly brings the listener away into the music; one is truly engulfed in the over-the-top surging strings, the layered, soaring guitars, and atmospheric backgrounds. One may find themselves on damp, dark, cobble stone streets while listening to “Cemeteries of London,” and yet, by the end of the journey, lying in the bright sunshine on a perfect summer day during “Strawberry Swing.” “42,” perhaps the most interesting and thought out song on the entire record, starts as a slow piano and strings driven, Radiohead-esque track, until it all comes together with Martin exclaiming in front of upbeat acoustic guitars and pounding drums: “You thought you might be a ghost//You didn't make it heaven but you made it close, oh, oh” before it all coming back to Earth before the track ends. From beginning to end, the album stretches the bounds of imagination; in reality, the music takes you wherever you want to go, whether it is to far away places, or just as easily, sitting comfortably at home.
Some may find the album to be unneccesarily bombastic, or even contrived and pompous because of the thick arrangements and over the top instrumentation, but that's what makes the album so damn good in the first place. The fact that Coldplay can put in anything they want to into a song, and still make it worth listening to is incredible, considering that usually, overproduction with layering and instrumentation comes off as contrived, or, does the opposite effect of their purpose; by taking something away from the tracks altogether.
Viva La Vida may have been business as usual to Coldplay; it brought the band critical acclaim, sold millions of records, and led to a tour that lasted almost three years. Maybe Viva La Vida was nothing special for them, but one thing is for sure, it was certainly special for us.