They’re calling it Coldplay’s “experimental” album. To me, Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, is somewhere between U2’s Joshua Tree and what The Killer’s did on Sam’s Town. Yes; it’s a strange combination. Viva la Vida (Spanish for “Long Live Life!”) takes its name from a painting by 20th century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, while the album’s artwork features the painting Liberty Leading the People (La LibertÃ© guidant le peuple) by French painter EugÃ¨ne Delacroix, commemorating the July Revolution of 1830. The artwork is a bit contrasting to the album’s title, which reminds me of something from post-classical Europe and the religious idealism of “memento mori” (remember that you are mortal).
But on to the music. The album starts off with the pretty much vocal-free “Life In Technicolor” before heading into “Cemeteries of London” in what feels like a contemporary English folksong, and perhaps a touch of one of the band’s previous hits, “God Put A Smile On Your Face”, except, the march-drumming, echo-choir and Latin-style clapping is reminiscent of a battle song, or perhaps something Francisco Pizarro might have played as he conquered the Inca Empire (if he had a CD player on the ship, of course). “Lost!” is a stadium-like sing-along that is perhaps designed specifically to get everyone clapping in unison along the lines of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, but less memorable, with an organ playing in contrast to sharp lyrics like: “just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost” and “Oh, I’m just waiting till the shine wears off”.
The song “42” starts off with a mournful Chris Martin on piano before flying off into a dark melody of crazed percussions and a Killersesque guitar riff and refrain in the end that isn’t Coldplay’s finest moment.
“Lovers In Japan” makes up for it, with a song that is perhaps self-reflective and personal, yet summoning a bit of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with quick-paced guitars and drums backing lyrics like “Tonight maybe we’re gonna run, Dreaming of the Osaka sun”.
“Yes!” starts with a mixture of acoustics, violas, percussions and a Chris Martin voice that’s a few octaves lower than the usual delivery. The pre-chorus consists of a pure Arabian violin lead-in.
“Strawberry Swing”, possibly one of my favorite tracks off the new album, is a daydream-like ballad that adds an all together unexpected and different flavor to the band’s palette, with Martin singing inquisitively: “People moving all the time, Inside a perfectly straight line…Don’t you wanna curve away?”
“Death And All His Friends”, like “42”, starts with the mournful-piano combination, before going into a more uptempo movement that reminds me of the introduction to “All These Things That I’ve Done”. The song, like “42”, is perhaps about life being too short to wait around for the human instinct to postpone things, with nostalgic, choir-sung words like “No I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end, I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge, I don’t wanna follow Death and all his friends.”
Meanwhile, the second single “Viva La Vida”, which has gone on to become one of the band’s most successful songs to date, is a pretty interesting track. Violin-driven with church bells in the background, the song is about God, Kings, conquest, sins and regret in what could be a political song during the Crusades, as Martin sings: “Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate, Just a puppet on a lonely string, Oh who would ever want to be King?”
The lead single, “Violet Hill”, is lyrically, a protest song with lyrics like “I don’t want to be a solider, who the captain of some sinking ship would stow, far below”, but musically, a bit disappointing and probably not worthy of being the album’s first sampler.
All in all, the album is pretty enjoyable. It is a bit of a departure from the traditional norms that made Coldplay so popular. They have not given up their reign on rock-lite, but have perhaps ventured off just far enough to be considered experimental and fresh, which isn’t a bad thing for a band of Coldplay’s stature that has three similar-sounding albums already under its belt.
It’s definitely worth a listen.