Album: Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
I've been listening to Coldplay ever since they released Parachutes and while I never felt they were a particularly brilliant band, I always enjoyed listening to their catalog for what it was — pretty, mellow music that allowed me to relax. But I will confess that 2005's X & Y disappointed me. Unlike its predecessor (A Rush of Blood to the Head), which featured a number of solid yet simplistic piano ballads, X & Y was just too watered down and chockfull of unmemorable songs that kept blending into each other.
I listened to that album a few times while driving and a couple of times when I needed to listen to something that would help me sleep. And then I just tucked it away, never giving it much of a chance to sit inside my CD player.
That being said, the band seems to be getting back on its feet with Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, released earlier this week. This latest effort is what many are referring to as Coldplay's "experimental" album, which may not be a completely accurate description. But while each song still has the basic elements of the average Coldplay tune — pianos, guitars, occasionally trite lyrics, and repetitive chord sequences — various other elements save the record from turning into another X & Y.
Whereas previous Coldplay efforts have relied on generic pop melodies, the band does manage to mix things up by including Middle Eastern tonalities on "Yes," catchy orchestration on the title track, distorted guitars in "Violet Hill," and pounding organs and hand claps on "Lost." Brian Eno's production work also makes its mark here; the guitar flourishes and climactic conclusions (as heard on "42") have shades of U2.
While most of these elements enhance the band's sound, the album has its weaknesses. Lyrics such as "You might be a big fish in a little pond," can take a person out of the moment while listening to the otherwise catchy "Lost." And there are moments where one gets the sense that Coldplay might be trying a bit too hard to shake off some of their insecurities. The decision to combine two songs in "Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love" seems a bit misguided — there's too much of a disparity between the uptempo first half and the more subdued second half. If anything "Reign of Love" might have been better as a hidden track at the end of the album.
At the end of the day, Viva La Vida... isn't quite perfect, but it does signal the return of what seems to be a more confident band. Hopefully, Coldplay will figure out a way to balance their "old" and "new" sound as they continue recording in the future. But for now, they've produced a perfectly appealing album that will probably get plenty of play in a majority of iPods and CD players for quite some time.
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