Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Coldplay: Viva la Vida

I think I can safely say that I did a lot of unnecessary worrying about Coldplay. That aside, there are a lot of different things that I want to say about this album and in the process of taking notes on Viva la Vida during my last listen (yes, I take notes on my music) I was thinking that given the particular nature of this disc, the best way to tackle a review might be to write a track-by-track rundown. Before staring up though, I have to complain that there were no liner notes and with the variety of sounds coming steadily through the speakers, it's a real pain in the ass trying to figure out exactly what instrument is responsible for what sound. Oddly enough, I found an interview with the band on the MTV web site and that filled in a few blanks. Believe me, MTV wasn't the first place I would have thought to look. Anyway, here it is.

Life in Technicolor- The first surprise of Viva la Vida (for me anyway) was that this track is instrumental except for some distant sounding "ooh"s toward the end and if you're not paying attention, you won't realize that it's repeated at the end of the last track. It's like spacey bookends for the album. Not bad to start off.

Cemeteries of London- Darker tones set in here and it's the start of an album loaded with religious imagery/references, life and death interplay, and vaguely historical tones...Victorian in this case. Take the cover art, it's a painting from the French Revolution. It also feels like a starting point of a global jaunt, as if Coldplay started off in London and trekked around the world filling their suitcases with sounds from different places and used that suitcase of sounds in the studio like a painter would use a palette of colors. According to band, it's also the first time they use handclaps which do pop up here and there on other tracks.

Lost!- This song has kick. Also, unidentified percussion against organ. "Lost!" has a rollicking beat and lyrics reminiscent of some lines J.R.R Tolkien wrote in Lord of the Rings, "all who wonder are not lost" etc. Unfortunately, it loses steam nearing the end. There's just no follow through.

42- Clearly, old school Coldplay, piano and strings backing Chris Martin's high, wispy vocals. It sounds as if it might have had a home on Rush of Blood to the Head until about a minute and a half in when heavier instrumentation kicks in and it turns into a cut from X&Y. It's not a bad song, the band's evolution is just so obvious on this track.

Lovers in Japan/ Reign of Love- Honestly, if I had to point to a weak spot on this album, it would be this 6:51 minute combo. Don't get me wrong, they are by no means crappy songs, shoddily constructed or misguided musical meanderings. It's just a situation where it's a great album with some really great tracks and these just fall short by the standards of the album. To the credit of the former, the band figured out how to rig a harpsichord of sorts by putting tacks on the hammers of an old piano. Creative. Points for that. It sounds really cool but it's not enough to save the song which doesn't really go anywhere. In any case, it's better than "Reign of Love." I liked the sound of it for a while, but the rest of the song is just okay. "Reign of Love" reminds me of "Til Kingdom Come" but at the same time the music itself is light, airy with a whiff of classical influence.

Yes- I think this is the turning point of the album, it's consistantly excellent after this point. Martin sings way below his normal register on "Yes" and the effect is dark, brooding, and alluring. It is really one of the best tracks. Starting off, it sounds like it might be some weepy Coldplay ballad but surprises the listener when those notes fade out to be replaced by a sound that it anything but weepy or weak. Also, the use of middle eastern sounding violin is really cool, it adds some mystery and follows the song's alternating underlying currents of unease and purposeful lethargy.

Chinese Sleep Chant- Hidden track! This is the reason why "Yes" is seven minutes long. Before I realized what it was I thought it was random, especially on the heels of "Yes" but it definitely doesn't hurt.

Viva la Vida- Like I said, it's all gold after "Yes." The violin is crisp and it's one of the best tracks on the album, living up to the iTunes commercial. Here we find some of the better lyrics on the album, partly because there's more of a story line--former glory and corruption. Also, intsruments explode in the chorus, sounds great. I really like the phrasing. More religious imagery. Crusades? British occupation of a country? Don't know, can't place it, but that historical vibe is very much present.

Violet Hill- Hold your horses kids, I'm working what I have to say about this song into my closing statements.

Strawberry Swing- I have no idea what type of strings those are but they have that middle east to far east feel to them. Another solid track, one that is very intriguing and lovely.

Death and all His Friends- It's an awfully sweet song for having a name like that. But once again a dramatic shift takes place and what started off as possible a straight up love song turns into something of a defiant plea. To me what's funny is that the best line in the album, "cycle of recycled revenge" actually came from producer Brian Eno. Once that section ends, it fades back into the same strains from "Life in Techincolor" with the addition of those whistful lyrics "and in the end, we lie awake, and we dream of making our escape." Martin's "mmmm"s wind up being one of the prettiest sounds on the album amid the slight swell in the music which gently settles back down and boom; it's over. I pulled this quote from Martin when he was talking about "Death and all His Friends" to MTV.

"Well, this is supposed to be the theme of the album, really. We're aware of all the bad stuff in life, you know — i.e. Death and all his friends — but that doesn't mean you should ever give in to it, you know? So we all sing that bit together really loudly, as kind of a message to ourselves: never giving up and never focusing on the bad stuff too much."

Jumping back to "Violet Hill" as a statement about the album as a whole, I know I already talked about it but I do have to say that the release of this single was a tad misleading because it gave the impression that Viva la Vida was going to be a harder rocking album, edgier. That's what I was hoping for, that's what I was expecting. However, that's not to say that I'm disappointed because Viva la Vida is a good piece of work, it just went into a different direction. Sonically it ranges from pretty to lush and that's definitely something to take note of. There's always the danger of overloading on complicated arrangements, adding too many layers, and flat out screwing it up; a three foot pile of lace isn't that delicate. Coldplay did not fall into that trap. I don't think I'd call Viva la Vida a masterpiece but I think that it's a crucial piece in their catalogue because it's the point where they really figured out what they are capable of in terms of craftsmanship and artistry. It's an enjoyable album, very pretty and I know that I will be coming back to it many many more times.

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