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Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends

Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

UPON first listen, Coldplay’s fourth album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends is neither here nor there. Fans may even be a little perplexed. The grandstanding, sing-along choruses have all but disappeared, frontman Chris Martin appears more restrained than usual, and Jonny Buckland’s guitar riffs are less pronounced, replaced instead by some Brian Eno electronic flourishes.

Indeed, the opening instrumental, Life In Technicolour, seems better suited to the soundtrack of a Michael Mann movie (think Heat or Miami Vice), while the slow-building style of Cemeteries of London means the LP takes a while to properly ignite.

It’s as though Coldplay have deliberately stuck two fingers up to critics and sceptics who think they’ve developed a trademark sound, providing proof of their ability to mix things up and retain quality. And there lies the rub… no matter how surprising the style and tone of Viva La Vida is upon first listen, it’s still a majestic release.

Try listening to it three or four times in succession and you’ll begin to realise that this is the sound of a band blossoming, maturing and stepping into the next phase of their (hopefully long) career with continued confidence. It’s not a massive stretch but there’s enough to suggest they won’t be content to rest on their laurels at any time soon.

What’s more, there’s a twin sense of hope and despair surrounding many of the compositions – some of which will have you clapping along as boisterously as the beats suggest, others which may have you crying with a sense of awe and wonder.

Life In Technicolour is actually a quite brilliant starting point, a mix of Eno’s electronics and Buckland’s guitars that collide in breathtaking fashion. Martin’s vocals then intrude, almost whispering the haunting intro to Cemeteries of London, before dropping some hispanic-flavoured acoustic guitars and handclap beats into the mix. The chorus, with its “la, la, la“s, is certain to be embraced by fans on the live curcuit as a rallying call to join in. And Buckland’s guitars do make a belated impression, despite being less pronounced than usual.

The handclaps return for Lost!, this time set against Martin’s organ and shades of gospel backing. It’s a heady brew – mid-tempo throughout and as epic as some of U2’s biggest moments. It’s the type of song that’s made for stadium filling and come the rousing conclusion, you’ll probably want to raise your arms into the air.

It’s slow-build territory again for 42, with more of Martin’s haunted vocals set against Lennon-esque piano chords (think Imagine), until the song suddenly finds a new sense of energy around the minute-and-a-half mark with some stirring percussion and an Eastern influence in the strings. It’s one of a couple of tracks where Eno’s influence is most noticed and it serves to enhance the new direction of the album.

Lovers In Japan/Reign of Love is, quite simply, the album’s one anomoly. Its opening half, Lovers…, is one of the most instantly accessible and openly beautiful songs on the album, trading vibrant beats with shimmering guitar licks, but it changes pace dramatically – and not entirely successfully – when it enters Reign of Love territory. It’s almost a split personality – brave? Yes; Successful? Only moderately so. You have to wonder why they didn’t just split the song in two and add an extra track on the LP.

Yes, on the other hand, fully unleashes the Eastern strings hinted at on 42 and wraps some bluesy slide guitar around Martin’s gruff vocal approach. It’s another song that takes a while to grow on you, but which eventually delivers just rewards for patience.

The bouncing synths of title track Viva La Vida will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s seen Coldplay’s iTunes advert and are another example of the album at it’s most vibrant and accessible. There’s a sense of regret in some of the lyrics that adds to the mix of beautiful melancholy surrounding the instrumentation. It’ll probably be one of the easiest picks for album favourite among long-term fans.

Former single Violet Hill is another gem, its fiery mix of brash guitar riffs and emotive lyrics continuing to sound as thrilling as it did after first being unveiled as Coldplay’s big return. It is a big song and seems cleverly aware of its own epic status – expect it to set the stadiums of Europe alight this summer/winter.

In stark contrast, meanwhile, is the breezy Strawberry Swing, one of the most romantic records on the album, and an easygoing crowdpleaser that’s effortlessly capable of putting a smile on the face. When Martin declares “it’s such a perfect day”, you can’t help but reflect on the good things in life. It’s got to become an enduring summer anthem.

Death And All His Friends draws the album to a pensive close, slow-building its way to another majestic finale, before a reprise of Life In Technicolour holds us mesmerised once more and leaves us yearning for more. It’s safe to say you’ll want to hear it all over again as soon as possible.

Credit, then, to Coldplay and new collaborator Eno for delivering another near-masterpiece. It may take more time than usual to warm to (especially for fans of their early work), but expands their sound in career-enhancing fashion.

Download picks: Life In Technicolour, Cemeteries of London, Lost!, Lovers In Japan, Violet Hill, Viva La Vida, Strawberry Swing

Track listing:

  1. Life In Technicolor
  2. Cemeteries Of London
  3. Lost
  4. 42
  5. Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love
  6. Yes
  7. Viva La Vida
  8. Violet Hill
  9. Strawberry Swing
  10. Death And All His Friends