Saturday, August 16, 2008

Coldplay -- Viva La Viva Or Death And All His Friends (2008)

Coldplay -- Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (Capitol)

Credibility is such a funny thing. Artists strive to get their music heard by as many people as possible. For some, that’s more than enough. For others, sales without acclaim falls short of what they want to accomplish.

After two ridiculously successful albums, and an utterly unnecessary live set, Coldplay has been casting about for critical props. Last album, the band made some minor musical modifications and nabbed a hook from an old Kraftwerk song. These things got some notice, but no one genuflected. Coldplay was a serviceable anthemic pop band -- Radiohead lite.

This time around, Coldplay decided to show the world that it was serious about being taken seriously. It was time to deploy the big guns. Brian Eno was signed on to co-produce the band’s latest effort.

And Eno does a fine job and the album certainly sounds good. But Coldplay has always sounded good. What has kept Coldplay from being more than enjoyable radio fodder is that there’s not much beyond the surface, though they excel at the superficial. They clearly want to show everyone that they have something to say. But they haven’t really found much of anything to say.

Which is a shame, because the band is certainly progressing. Chris Martin’s sweet voice may have its detractors, but he conveys a lot of emotion. On a few songs here, Martin shows that he doesn’t always have to sing near the top of his range. Guitarist John Buckland manages to retain his signature ringing sound, while playing both inventive leads and adding to the textures on the record.

One song where Eno’s job as sonic landscaper (it’s true -- he’s credited with “sonic landscapes” in the liners) is well done is “Lost”. This song relies on a great mix of percussion, layered keyboards and key contributions by Buckland. This song is Coldplay at its best, with the lyrics being fairly direct and not overreaching and an economical Buckland guitar solo that gives this moody number a bit more kick.

There is also some kick in “Yes”, a song that starts off with a Beatle-esque psych-pop vibe which is blended with some low key moody balladeering. Martin’s lower register is as inviting as his normal range, and the song builds well to the chorus, and after a second, more intense verse, Buckland uncorks a driving solo. Then the band goes quiet briefly, with a ringing riff takes this song into U2/Midnight Oil territory. By the end of the track, Buckland sounds like he’s giving props to The Edge, while Martin wails in the distance. This is the most thrilling track on the album.

Heartstrings are plucked on “42". Musically, this song sounds like it’s got two parts Elton John (circa “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”), one part John Lennon and one part XTC (circa “Your Dictionary”). Like “Yes”, the song goes from lush sounds to lacerating rock, with the jagged guitars evoking Radiohead (like that’s the first time it’s happened). But the “you thought you might be ghost/didn’t get to heaven/but you made it close” hook is, well, kinda dopey.

Meanwhile, the single, “Viva La Vida”, doesn’t have the greatest lyrics, as Martin’s words about a king who is now a commoner are adequate, but aren’t very compelling. However, the music is fantastic. This is wide screen pop with orch-pop overtones. As with other tracks on the album, the use of strings is very thoughtful. Here, they really define the track.

Basically, Coldplay plays big music, but doesn’t have big ideas to go with them. Let me clarify -- musically, Coldplay is becoming more inventive, which makes this album a fine listen. But the band just doesn’t have the lyrical flair to take this material all the way to the top. Instead of seeking out Brian Eno, maybe these guys need to find someone who could help them find the words that could make this music shine to maximum effect.

1 comment:

Handy said...

I agree with you that Coldplay has become more inventive, and this album is GREAT! it's worth the wait.. :D