Coldplay - Viva LaVida
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Artistic growth is a good thing. Had the Beatles stayed with "She Loves You" and never moved to "A Day in the Life," they might be viewed with as much regard as the Backstreet Boys in the annals of popular music. I tend to like bands that change over time, assuming, of course, that it is for the better.

Coldplay is a very capable band that is pushing its envelope. Following 2002's "A Rush of Blood to the Head," they made a decent follow-up ("X & Y") that kept much of their style while allowing their guitarist more room in the audio mix. By itself, this isn't a bad thing, but if the rhythm section wasn't drawing enough comparisons to U2, overt copying of The Edge's singular guitar style threw the collection into a solid but unimaginative heap. Maybe it was a safe thing to do, but happily, they appear to be moving forward rather than recapturing their past.

While "A Rush..." had possibly 8 songs that could fare well in commercial air-play, LaVida has one or two. Had Coldplay not been a proven brand, the stylistic differences beg the question whether this release would receive any airplay.

And that's the risk of growth. While not as radical a move as U2's "Zooropa" or Radiohead's "Kid A," they certainly seem less interested in delivering what was becoming a Coldplay formula; LaVida isn't commercial in a radio-ready sense, though no doubt they will earn tidy paychecks. It may not be possible for them to depart far enough from their core musical instincts to throw off their fans.

Most of the growth here is by the singer/writer, Chris Martin. Like U2's Bono, he shares an ability to emote through his singing. Whereas Bono ultimately yielded to the sanctimonious temptations of the self-righteous, Martin remains a colorful interpreter of his message. What that message is isn't exactly clear.

Songwriters quite often write snippets of lyrics that leave it to the audience to sort out. That's fine and often rewarding. Here, I can't point to more than a couple songs and say clearly, "this is what it is about." But by joining snippets, it's clearly a spiritual development, though the end is still uncertain.

The possibility of this development was hinted at 2 releases ago with "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," possibly one of the smartest and best delivered God pondering songs ever. A lyric snippet and/or the video from that:

Where do we go, nobody knows
I've gotta say I'm on my way down
God give me style and give me grace
God put a smile upon my face

Where do we go to draw the line
I've gotta say, I wasted all your time, oh honey honey
Where do I go to fall from grace
God put a smile upon your face, yeah

Now when you work it out I'm worse than you
Yeah when you work it out, I want it too
Now when you work out where to draw the line
Your guess is as good as mine...

That guessing is likely universal amongst thinking people, and it's a theme found in many lyrics. A couple snippets from other songs:

From "42":

Time is so short and I'm sure
There must be something more.

From "Yes":

God only knows I'm trying my best
But I’m just so tired of this loneliness.

Whereas Bono is dressed in vanity, it appears that Martin is headed towards humility, as also evidenced in the title track:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

Musically, the audio space is much more congested than previous releases, with an emphasis on string sections. This isn't always for the best, as they tend to overemphasize the dramatic tendencies in Martin's singing. That said, it's also likely to continue to be part of the band's sound. Other notable differences are the trademark electronic sounds added by producer Brian Eno and, to an extent, Martin seeking new ground by singing at a lower key than his typical range and falsetto.

Overall, this is their most interesting CD to date, and there's enough here to suggest their best may be yet to come.

Suggested Tracks: "42," "Viva LaVide," "Cemeteries of London"

4 Stars

1 comment :

  1. I don't really listen to Coldplay, I think they only had 1 song several years ago that I really even listened to. But, that said, I know about the band and Chris's marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow and the birth of their two children. I wonder if him starting to delve into thoughts of the afterlife and the existance of God has anything to do with that?? It might be interesting to timeline when the songs were written with the birth of his children. Eh. Its a thought anyway. (I am probably still not going to listen to him, lol.)