Life is but a dream. That little classic rhyme comes to mind when I listen to Coldplay’s flawed tour de force, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. You can hear the creative touches inspired by producer Brian Eno throughout, starting with a dreamlike electronic coda on “Life in Technicolor” that leads us into this new journey which promised us a new and improved Coldplay sound.
Lately I judge albums on how the emotions they inspire. Viva La Vida is an uplifting trip by a band who, to quote Bono, went away trying make it up all over again. If you’re expecting an In Rainbows-like leap from Berryman, Buckland, Champion and Martin, you’ve come to the wrong album. Coldplay is not there yet. Viva is a far improvement from the overproduced hooks from X & Y. They are learning to steal from the best. Who better to help guide Coldplay along the way that the legendary Brian Eno, the producer who helmed such classic albums from artists like Talking Heads, U2 and James.
But Eno can only do so much; he can help bring out the power in soundscapes as the band has to provide the creative colors in this canvas of songs. Coldplay does deliver, most of the time, they stepped up and reached for the heavens. My favorite song has to be “42.” It starts off with a beautiful “Imagine”-esque” like piano and yet Martin slip’s with an awkwardly rhymed “Those who are dead are not dead they’re just living in my head.” Whaa? Quit with the forced end rhymes, Chris, and use more of your imagination. The lyrics at times don’t live up to the wondrous rhythms that the band sets up for Martin. He quickly makes up for it in the second half of “42” with my favorite lyric, “you didn’t get to heaven but you made it close.”
You may hear more of these throughout Viva La Vida. Sometimes they fall as in the cleverly pop song that is “Strawberry Swing.” But even in these failures there are elements of greatness, like Buckland’s tripped out world beat guitar riff.
Coldplay’s fighting a solitary attempt to trying to put some substance on the airwaves. Martin says he’s tired of the loneliness as he sings “When it started/ we had high hopes/ now my back’s on the line/ my back’s on the ropes.” It takes guts for a band to take a foot off their commercial success and risk it all for some creative glory. Yes, they could’ve played it safe and wrote another “Yellow,” but who wants to hear that again?
Viva La Vida is the sound a band searching for positive flourishes of elation in this world of static and soulless pessimism. Listen to the lyrics “Just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost/ doesn’t mean I’ll stop.” Martin & Co. stimulate us with their message of love and hope. There’s not much of that coming from the mainstream these days.
Viva La Vida is their Unforgettable Fire. It’s the wonderful mix of experimental rhythms and pop songs to lift Coldplay to a new level. They’re getting there, just listen to the songs like the epic title track. “I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing/ Roman Cavalry choirs are singing.” To me this is a sign of a band that is growing. The thing you have to remember is, unlike an indie band, every little misstep is magnified because of their presence on a world’s stage. Of course, just because they want to be the best band doesn’t make it so. It took Radiohead and U2 some time to become legends.
I’m looking forward to Coldplay’s next album, that one is destined to be their great one. Could it be their Joshua Tree, OK Computer or their Laid? We’ll just have to wait and listen. Though it’s not perfect, if Viva La Vida is any indication, they heading in the right stratosphere. Let’s just lay off the slagging. Coldplay was never cool. And yet they are lifting the sound of pop music to new heights away from the empty mindedness of corporate America. Give them a break. It will take some time but if this is the soundtrack of change, sign me up every time. With an ever-evolving sound Coldplay is the rising soundtrack to an increasingly perfect day.
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
Embrace – The Good Will Out
Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid