Monday, July 14, 2008

Viva La Vida or Death and All of His Friends - Coldplay

Viva La Vida

Parlophone Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

Remember when your friends could say “I really like Coldplay” without that apologetic tone in their voice, as if they’d committed some horrific fashion-error that might injure your friendship? When you could state your appreciation of Coldplay’s efforts without prematurely retaliating with a smirking ‘fuck off’? Since I first heard ‘Yellow’ in my graduating year of high school, Coldplay have always held a position on my music radar: I caught their first Canadian show, was in a record shoppe on the day of A Rush of Blood to the Head’s release, casually listened to my brother’s copy of X&Y for a year before I bought it, and recently bought Viva La Vida for my girlfriend. OK, so as that timeline indicates, Coldplay have kinda slipped from the forefront of my radar since 2002; no foul there. Point is, liking Coldplay has never made me an insecure audiophile; even at X&Y’s anthemic, bloated worst, one could identify a few solid rock numbers that my friends would’ve loved had Coldplay not written it. So would I be standing proud as a regular Coldplay fan if Viva La Vida was complete rubbish? Yes… although my review would be about to take a drastic left turn.

Thankfully, Viva La Vida rebounds from the stale songwriting that resulted in X&Y’s epic bulkiness; a record that makes no attempt to offer grand statements or undercooked themes. And what do you know, even without looming blocks of production or a specific musical ideology in place, Viva La Vida is a well-sequence and fluid album, the kind where each song is its own territory. That these songs own their space so concretely gives extra cred to the album, given that these ten tracks support at least fourteen actual songs, the majority of which pick up when their title song fades to black. That ‘Chinese Sleep Chant’, an echo-based rock song skips in after ‘Yes’ like someone rolled a frequency dial, manages to fit between two customary Coldplay songs is bonefide proof that Coldplay can evolve as a band. These hidden tracks scattered throughout Viva La Vida unquestionably make it a better album, and give it a complementary uniqueness in the Coldplay discography.

Besides that, the focus here is restraint and the four Brits pull it off in several key songs: ‘Life in Technicolour’ is all the melody and romance Coldplay are known for, delivered in a mean and instrumental two and a half minutes, while ‘Lost!’, their best song in years, is an intricate and considered improvement on their regular songcraft. Among several upgrades is Chris Martin, who remains challenged in the lyrical department, but really, with his range, no voice could better sell his occasionally schmaltzy material. The rest of the band is also on board, with ‘42’ branching out in some dirtier guitar and more assertive arrangements. What makes this focus a surprise is also in direct opposition to what made Viva La Vida such a curiosity for me; that with Brian Eno on deck, and all his production talents and vision, Coldplay have zeroed in instead of playing around. Eno knows exactly what aspects of their sound to accentuate, giving those guitar bits in the chorus extra morning dew and providing ample soundscapes for each song’s foundation.

By the time ‘Death and All of His Friends’, the best Coldplay finale since ‘Amsterdam’, codas into the ethers, I’m proud of the boys. Few bands take flak from the music press with the venom that Coldplay swallows, yet here they’ve succeeded, not only by venturing beyond their safety zone but by sticking to their guns. Rarely have I witnessed such cowardice when dealing with music appreciation, a subject that is supposed to be exciting for its diversity, by those who would kick a dead horse because people have been kicking it for years. What this pessimism toward Coldplay boils down to isn’t fame, but optimism; their “lifestyle music”, as once coined by Thom Yorke, has garnered so many devotees because its message is uplifting in a vein no different than the Beatles’ was. I’m glad Coldplay are here and I’m happy they aren’t perfect. People would only hate them more.

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