Review Summary: Carpe Diem.
Sometimes it takes that little bit of blind inspiration to break from the mundane. That fuck it
mentality can be dangerous, but that's sort of the point, right" We can live our lives flatlining or we can actually take risks. Ships are pretty safe in the harbour but that's not what ships are built for. So it went between 2005's X & Y
and 2008's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
, the breaking point for Coldplay being the homogenous space-rock mediocrity of their third studio album, in spite of its colossal sales figures. As Martin put it, it was a case of "getting better rather than bigger." And so the rigid creative processes of a decade of chart hits snapped at the centre; the band hired Brian Eno to bring out the unpredictable in their music and leave harbour for a change. And Viva La Vida
is the depiction, the reflection, the encapsulation of that risk.
Precarious, then, because if it sucked the critics would be sneering that pop bands should stick to being pop bands and keep it simple, but not only does it not suck, they're going to be clamouring for more. From the outset it's clear that something has changed, something intangible; it's the same clean-cut conversation with a group of polite Brits, but wait, what's that" Ambient introductions" World influences" Ambitious song structures" The latter is the most important; the rest can be gimmicks, tacked on to attract labels like 'experimental' and 'branching out', but no, these are not false panels at all. You can see it in the way that Coldplay are still unapologetically Coldplay, in the plain and simple plea of lead single 'Violet Hill': 'if you love me, won't you let me know"
And it's OK, now, to let them know. The guilty pleasure nature of some of this band's back catalogue dissolves; these songs move with rhythm and poise, incorporating organs on 'Lost' and shoegaze walls of sound on 'Chinese Sleep Chant' and fucking bells
on the phenomenal - simply inspiring - 'Viva La Vida'. Each song is an entirely organic and flowing piece of excellence, even as 'Death And All His Friends' moves from the understated kind of piano Martin always
did well to the epic kind of climax Coldplay never had the courage to reach for before now. The only way Viva
can look pretentious or over-ambitious is in the context of the banal offerings before it; that is to say, in and of itself it is seamless and gorgeous, nothing more and nothing less.
Even the core elements of the sound that made Coldplay arguably the world's biggest band step up their game, particularly Martin's lyricism. Let's not pretend the frontman's ever been trite; sure, at times his words are simple, but they're rarely simplistic - remember 'Politik's 'give me love over this
'" And there's more of that beautiful connection here, but it's elevated to another plane by what surrounds it: the vastly deeper music, sure, but also the tangible images of cemeteries and fields that before were empty spaces of ambiguous nouns like 'hope' and 'love'; here those dimensions are represented by something in our own world, and it pays dividends.
Despite the overarching title and the band's apparent thematic obsession with revolution, Viva La Vida
is never billed as a concept album, but beneath the surface-level leap in ambition, it truly is an accidental masterpiece. Through its 10 songs - 13, if you view the three 'double tracks' in that way - it struggles with the fear of death on '42' and the fear of being trapped by love on 'Reign of Love' and the fear of opening up on 'Cemeteries of London.' But in the end it learns its lessons; 'Violet Hill' urges honesty, 'Strawberry Swing' evokes so many grins in its desire to 'curve away', and the incredible closer peaks amid a breathtaking four-part harmony likely to induce heart attacks on first listen.
And these are words you couldn't have used before about Coldplay, however much you adored their straightforward tone and immense hooks: 'breathtaking'; 'incredible'; 'masterpiece'. And this is the entire point of Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
, both in its internal content and in its external context; that however comfortable things might be, sometimes the rewards are ample - nay, deserved - payoff for the risks involved. Coldplay could have made another X & Y
with another seven 'Fix You's and three 'Speed of Sound's. But Viva La Vida
isn't impressive because of some detached value judgement as to how it's nice to see them be ambitious; it's impressive because their ambition manifests itself in these glorious, enormous and expansive songs of temptation, desire and fulfilment. Carpe fucking