One of my favorite musical sub-hobbies is re-imagining albums as they might have been. It’s not because I think the artist did wrong, it’s more just a way for me to bend the artist’s output to fit around my taste even better. I’ve re-done everything from Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, which was originally tracklisted in alphabetical order, to Brand New’s Science Fiction. However, my favorite album restructuring has to be the one I did years ago for Viva La Vida and Prospekt’s March, which I happened upon while cleaning out some old files on my PC. The LP (VLV) and the bonus follow-up collection (PM) are each superb in their own right, but in blending the best of them, you get a truly special – dare I say perfect – pop/rock record. Chances are if you’re not a huge Coldplay nerd I’ve already lost your attention, so I’ll cut through all the fanfare and just get right down to my playlist and the reasoning as to why I structured it the way I did.
The album begins with “Life in Technicolor II” – I chose this version because it is more fully fleshed out than its instrumental counterpart. The band stripped away the vocals from the original version “Life in Technicolor” in 2008 because it sounded too much like “an obvious single”, but I much prefer the full bodied track with Chris Martin’s stunningly beautiful melodic arc. “Viva La Vida” fits in nicely early as a symphonically-charged highlight – on the original LP, the breathtaking title track was hidden too far back in the listing. When it comes to Coldplay, I’m all about instant gratification, and that song hooks you in immediately. I had to be careful about maintaining the flow and delicate balance of Viva La Vida while blending these songs together, because there’s nothing wrong with the way that “Viva La Vida” transitions into “Violet Hill”, but I did not want to frontload my re-imagining. Also, “Violet Hill” has more of a dark, brooding aura that I feel better serves the back half of the playlist. So instead, I found that the more sprightly but very elaborate/artsy “Lovers in Japan” fit the bill much better, and the transition from “Viva La Vida” into it is still adequate (or at least not noticeably “chopped off”). I love how the second half of the 7-minute song fizzles into beautiful classical pianos, so I felt that it made a whole lot of sense to use Prospekt’s March‘s 48-second “Postcards from Far Away” as an extension of that outro – and it also works as a bridge between the very rock-rooted “Lovers in Japan” and the electronic beats that begin “Rainy Day” – which includes some huge violin swells that I had to be careful not to place too closely to “Viva La Vida”, lest they be overshadowed.
“Glass of Water” feels like a mid-album awakening, jolting uplifting energy into a spot where albums typically start to die. I felt it was important to have that uptick in tempo courtesy of Prospekt’s March in the center of things. It has something of a wistful, sincere curtain call that allowed me to perfectly transition the mood into the more eerie “Violet Hill” – replete with its electric guitar solos and unforgettable choruses – it all just works ideally in this placing. “Prospekt’s March / Poppyfields” is a haunting acoustic ballad that retains the forlorn atmosphere that Coldplay leaves us off at during the closing “if you love me, won’t you let me know” moments of “Violet Hill”, all before things take a noticeable turn back towards the energetic with the warmth and romance of “Strawberry Swing.” Normally that song works very well at the end of Viva La Vida (the original LP), but I was far too enamored with the idea of “Yes”/”Now My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground”/”Death and All His Friends” as a closing trio to mess with that dynamic. “Yes” – a song that begins with eastern/Arabic influences and transitions into an all out rocker – feels like the perfect guitar smashing moment to end things. The short acoustic ditty “Now My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground” – whose mantra echoes the chorus from “Life in Technicolor II” – sees things come full circle lyrically, while the spellbinding, depressing “Death and All His Friends” sees it come full circle musically – marking a return to the ambience of the opener. “Death and All His Friends” is also hands down the best and only way to draw the curtains on this incredible collection of songs – it feels summative in a very satisying way.
If you’re into restructuring albums for your own enjoyment, and have a soft spot for Coldplay at their pinnacle, give this re-imagining a chance. I’m pretty proud of it compared to most other playlists I’ve made – the transitions, momentum, and overall flow of it is amazing. All credit of course goes to Coldplay for making two beautiful works in Viva La Vida and Prospekt’s March. Let me know what you think in the comments – did this enhance your experience of the album? Would you have swapped out any of my inclusions for something else? As far as I’m concerned, this is the only way to listen to Viva La Vida moving forward.