Ok, so everyone else has already reviewed this, but it’s not going to stop me putting my own take on it.
Coldplay want you to love them, rather they want the critics to love them. Because there’s no doubt that the general public do. X and Y sold 8.3 million copies worldwide in 2005 and topped charts all over the world. Their brand of inoffensive soft stadium rock is obviously a favourite of people the world over. However the critics were not so similarly enamoured, New York Times critic, Jon Pareles famously called them “The most insufferable band of the decade” in the aftermath of the album’s release. The band appeared to be becoming more and more derivative and absent of anything new to offer to the musical table, to the extent that their new songs started sounding like some of their old songs.
So Viva la Vida is Coldplay’s reinvention, their Kid A, their Acthung Baby. Except; it’s not. Despite much talk of change and adopting a ‘darker’ sound, it remains just that – talk. Chris Martin still rhymes in annoyingly trite couplets, which often results in stressing completely mundane and uninspiring statements to levels of stadium rock ridiculousness. 42 is a prime example of the weaknesses of Martin’s lyrics weighing down an otherwise strong song, it opens with Martin proclaiming rather insightfully “Those who are dead are not dead/They’re just living in my head” Wow, really? That is such an amazing observation, thanks for reminding me that my dead relatives can live on in my memory. Super!.
The fact that Coldplay only seem to write their lyrics for the sake of adhering to a rhyme scheme is not the only thing holding them back from their reinvention. The main thing ensuring that Coldplay still sound like Coldplay is the fundamental lack of musical inventiveness, sure they’ve brought in vaguely tropical sounding guitars on Strawberry Swing, there’s a rather nice, if a little tame instrumental break on 42 and there’s a lot of ambient fuzz leaking out of every gap in the record, no doubt down to the father of ambient music; Brian Eno’s role as Producer. But it never goes as far as a revolution of sound, despite all the talk of a darker sound, Latin influences and Coldplay ‘rebelling’ it’s still pretty standard fare for a Coldplay record.
However there’s no doubt it is an evolution of sound, an admittedly slight one, but an evolution nonetheless. Fundamentally it is still Coldplay as you know them, it’s a shift far enough to please some of their critics, but not a change that will alienate their casual fanbase, the mums and Woolworths shoppers who just want a nice slice of musical fluff. As a result many of the changes are merely window dressing, much like the use of Kraftwerk samples in X and Y, the band are still very much a slick commercial entity with a clear audience to be targeted, any influences or nods to less commercially viable artists are kept to a minimum. That doesn’t mean of course that they can’t make good music and they do on this record, Viva la Vida’s darting strings and Violet Hill’s ‘heavy soft rock’ are brilliant pieces of unashamed pop songs, unrestricted by the albums confused identity and melded with some comparitavely tight, yet anthemic and populist lyrics these songs represent somthing far better than anything on the stale and insipid X and Y and arguably some of the best songs they’ve written even attempts at Shoegaze rock with ‘Chinese Sleep Chant’ are suprisingly well judged and performed
Viva la Vida is a good album, much of the criticism for this album is no doubt as a result of the band’s unfulfilled hype prior to release. Ignoring these grand statements and listening to the album in isolation for what it is rather than what it should be it’s clear that Coldplay still make good music and Viva la Vida is as fine a showcase as any to show Coldplay’s ability to write a good tune, even if the lyrics are shit.