Album Review: Coldplay, “Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends” (2008)

During the past couple of years, Coldplay has gone from being just a blip on my musical radar, to my favorite band (well, third after John Mayer and Jamie Cullum, but technically, they aren’t “bands” anyway). I’ve devoured all of their releases; falling in love with Chris Martin’s voice, songwriting and overall genius.

Their newest effort, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, is no exception to the rule.

The album begins with an exciting instrumental piece, Life in Technicolor, which sets the mood perfectly for the album. The opener fades into the first real song on the album, Cemeteries of London. The midtempo ballad is a good showcase of Martin’s trademark falsetto, and while not highly remarkable, still a lovely beginning for the album.

The disc hits a high point early on with one of my favorites, Lost! Having a sort of African/tribal sound to it, musically, the song is something new and unique for Coldplay. The fresh, upbeat melody is a welcome addition to the band’s repertoire of songs, yet the lyrics remain just as poignant and remarkable as their slower ballads (“I just got lost/Every river that I’ve tried to cross/And every door I ever tried was locked/Ooh-Oh, And I’m just waiting till the shine wears off…/You might be a big fish/In a little pond/Doesn’t mean you’ve won/’Cause along may come/A bigger one/And you’ll be lost”). iTunes also offers an acoustic version of this song, which is equally lovely, and allows more emphasis on the lyrics.

42 is next, and is another of my favorites. Don’t get caught up on the title- Martin said in an interview that the number 42 has no real significance, but once you hear the opening bars of the song, chances are you won’t be thinking much of the title anyway. The piano opening calls to mind The Scientist, but the focus is mainly on the lyrics, which quite honestly, caused to me to tear up the first time I heard them (“Those who are dead/Are not dead/They’re just living in my head/And since I fell/For that spell/I am living there as well/Time is so short/And I’m sure/There must be something more…”). After a repetition of the lyrics, the song changes up in tempo and becomes faster paced and upbeat. It sort of segues into a totally different song from this point on; though the lyrics are still somewhat linked (“You thought you might be a ghost/You didn’t get to heaven/But you made it close”) the style and sound are completely different. Both parts of the song would be great separately, and actually work quite well together.

Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love is another two separate songs joined into one. Lovers has an appropriate Japanese/Asian style sound, that’s again, something not usually heard from Coldplay. Again, the sound works well, and the melody placed with the descriptive lyrics (“Tonight maybe we’re gonna run/Dreaming of the Osaka sun/Ohh ohh…/Dreaming of when the morning comes”) create a great song. Reign is a slower paced track, that lyrically reminds me a haiku (“Locusts will/Lift me up/I’m just a prisoner/In a reign of love”); the imagery and metaphors work well with the quiet, dream-like sound.

Yes!/Chinese Sleep Chant is similar to it’s predecessors in the fact that it’s another pair of songs, but this time around, isn’t quite as strong a pair as the ones before it. The strings in Yes! are remarkably pretty, but besides that, the song isn’t very special. The verses sound very similar to some of Coldplay’s other songs, particularly from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, which was my least favorite album of theirs, and therefore not quite a good thing. Chinese Sleep Chant is a frenzied instrumental piece, that, while fun to listen to- isn’t exactly needed or necessary on the album.

The title track, Viva La Vida appears next, and I absolutely love this song! I loved it from the second I heard it on the iTunes commercial in early May; the exuberant melody and Martin’s lively delivery are what make the track so great. This also happens to be the band’s first number one song, and it’s easy to see why. The string section in this song, alone, is amazing- not to mention the brilliant sound. Lyrically, the song is about a king who’s lost his kingdom (or as I summed it up to my friends once, “it’s about a king who is lamenting upon the fact that he sucks a–.”), and the lyrics do paint the picture quite clearly (“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”). Simply put, this song makes me happy every time I listen to it, and no matter how many times I’ve heard it, I’ve yet to tire of it.

Coldplay

Violet Hill was the first single from the album, and actually took a bit of time to grow on me. I was admittedly a bit troubled the first time I heard the song; it sounded too dreary and similar to their other songs upon first listen. However, the guitar riff that plays throughout is a heavier than most other Coldplay songs, and the refrain is a favorite of mine (“If you love me/Won’t you let me know?”). Even the guitar solo towards the end is a bit unexpected, but fits well.

Another favorite of mine is the midtempo treat, Strawberry Swing. The song continues in the direction of the album’s Japanese influenced-sound, but this time has a lighter melody paired with carefree lyrics (“People moving all the time/Inside a perfectly straight line/Don’t you wanna curve away?/When it’s such…/It’s such a perfect day/Now the sky could be blue/I don’t mind/Without you/It’s a waste of time”). The track is another that makes me happy whenever I hear it.

The album comes to an end with Death And All His Friends, a quietly impressive ballad. The piano, vocals, and lyrics at the beginning of the song (“All winter, we got carried/Oh way over on the rooftops let’s get married/All summer we just hurried/So come over, just be patient, and don’t worry”) set a relaxing mood. Then, like most of the album, the tempo changes up towards the second chorus, and the piano and Martin’s vocals become louder as he sings, “No I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end;/I don’t wanna cycle, recycle revenge;/I don’t wanna follow death and all his friends.” The song then fades into a “hidden” track, titled The Escapist, which has the same underlying tune of Life In Technicolor but this time includes lyrics (“And in the end/We lie awake/And we dream/We’ll make an escape”). The short song is a perfect way to make the album go full circle, and is a brilliant end to the disc.

So, here I am again, thoroughly enjoying another Coldplay album and believing that Chris Martin and the gang will never fail to impress me. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends is an amazing album, and (possibly tied with Parachutes) my favorite Coldplay album. Well, so far, at least…

Rating: 5 stars

Track Listing
1. Life in Technicolor
2. Cemeteries of London
3. Lost!
4. 42
5. Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love
6. Yes
7. Viva La Vida
8. Violet Hill
9. Strawberry Swing
10. Death and All His Friends

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvgZkm1xWPE]
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