Music review: Coldplay’s Vida la Vida

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

Associated Press
Coldplay, “Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends” (Capitol Records)
Coldplay’s hit-making formula has served the band well: Thoughtful, mid-tempo songs driven by pleasant melodic hooks delivered by frontman Chris Martin’s blend of sublime and soaring vocals.
And the British quartet doesn’t stray too far in its latest effort, “Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.”
Despite the band’s decision to embrace experimentation and shake things up, “Viva La Vida …” sounds more like the result of a brief, quirky musical detour than a huge departure from what Coldplay delivered in its previous three studio albums.
That’s bound to please longtime fans who relish Coldplay’s signature sound, but could underwhelm those who may have been looking for Martin and Co. to follow up 2005’s “X&Y” with a more substantial surprising, musical journey.
Still, a few tracks off “Viva La Vida …” are formidable additions to the band’s oeuvre, including the shimmering “Cemeteries Of London,” the anthemic “Lovers In Japan,” and the sweet pop of “Strawberry Swing.”
Martin and his cohorts ó bassist Guy Berryman, lead guitarist Jonny Buckland and drummer Will Champion ó infused “Viva La Vida …” with a mix of introspective ballads and mid-tempo rockers exploring themes of religion, loss and love.
The album was produced by Markus Dravs, Rik Simpson and Brian Eno, a master of ambient soundscapes and experimentation known for helping artists such as U2 stretch their musical legs.
Eno and the other producers clearly were enlisted to do the same with Coldplay, and the tracks on “Viva La Viva …” are peppered with exotic musical touches, from African rhythms and sounds to even fiddle-driven melodies, like on “Yes.”
(The band also threw in a couple of curve-balls on the track listing, burying two hidden tracks in the album.)
The album opens with an upbeat instrumental that feels like it’s building to a grand climax, but just ends. Things pick up gradually from that point on, as Martin croons over light synth and piano on “Cemeteries Of London.” The track soon swells on flamenco handclaps and guitar to a catchy refrain of “Singing lala-lalalala-lay/And the night over London lay.”
In “Lost,” Coldplay marries rhythms driven by handclaps, drums and tablas with a backdrop from a church organ as Martin sings, “You might be a big fish in a little pond/Doesn’t mean you’ve won/Cause along will come a bigger one.”
The track “Viva La Vida” showcases perhaps Martin’s best lyrical work on the album. The track, at once layered and pulsing with strings, combines urgency with built-for-sing-along refrains including: “For some reason I can’t explain/I know St. Peter won’t call my name/Never an honest word/But that was when I ruled the world.”
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: “Violet Hill” features a gritty guitar, production and melodic twists that harken to John Lennon’s solo work. Martin shows great phrasing on the chorus, delivered with bombast early in the song and then as if he were singing a lullaby at the end: “If you love me, won’t you let me know.”