Coldplay - Vida la Viva or Death and All His Friends
Mark Shields 11/06/2008
The expectations that have been placed upon this release are huge - not only are there millions of fans of this band out there awaiting a fourth album from Coldplay, the brand is powerful enough to pick the fortunes of their parent company(EMI) up if it sells. One can imagine the boardroom listening to this album all the yes men smiling after the first three tracks congratulating the band for managing to pull it out of the bag again. For all Chris Martin and Co's posturing that this album was going to mark a great advancement in their musicianship and style, it is really isn't. It does spread their wings musically and pushes the boundaries a little lyrically, but on all counts this is a pretty safe record.
Opener, Life In Technicolour might initially sound a little daring, being an instrumental piece, but when your told that the lyrics were stripped from the track once the band realised how much of an obvious single candidate it was, you realise two things about the album that changes your perspective of it. Firstly, it shows how much Coldplay wanted this to be an OK Computer moment, an album to define the band and give them something to work from. You can hear the passion in the arrangements, the words being turned in and out in ways that the band haven't produced since Parachutes, but in amongst this need to make something different, they might have came slightly full circle, recording the album they were always in danger of making. Secondly, the decision to strip it of the lyrics show a willingness to be anti-corporate, but when Coldplay are nothing but, it feels very much like a toys out of the pram moment. The production is lavished everywhere and works well - but it's too much. Gone are jaggy guitar work of the first two records that were dispensed with on 'X&Y' apparently forever and in its place is a clean, produced, obviously Eno drone of strings and low echoed guitars.
Another telling moment is rather odd paring of 'Lovers in Japan' and 'Reign of Love', two pretty good songs seemingly sandwiched together for no reason other than it is something a bit different. The first part is rather good, the usual lighter aloft stadium epic we were expecting, paired with a second part totally different: led by the kind of piano motif, not heard since Trouble. It seems a little out of place; an attempt at the obscure because they felt it was needed. The guitar breakaway 3.15 in is welcome, but jarringly apposite to the piano of Reign of Love, you wonder why they aren't two different tracks, as most of the others segue into each other anyway.
For an album so obviously destined to sell many millions there are a few risks. Singing mostly about death and despair is something that Coldplay have visited before; the touching moments on the album are really well placed. In fact, the best things about the album is how well is sits together. The punch of '42' after the piano led intro is well timed and the string based thudding Vida la Viva is in a position before the single Violet Hill that these two songs probably should have been paired like Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love.
There are many stand out tracks here, which will surprise some. There's the aforementioned '42' but 'Violet Hill' sounds better surrounded by the rest of the album, which might be a bit contradictory for a "stand out track", but its true. Cemeteries of London and Lost? are also very good, when compiling the list of stand out's it occurred to me that whilst this album was beginning to sound a little rubbish, there is little nuggets of pretty good pop rock. The twinges of piano and guitar sound pretty good, even with the heavy sheen of production. The drumming is also heavily messed with, but over the record it doesn't sound too out of place. The soundscapes we all feared are missing (apart from the Epic closer Death and All His Friends, even with the rather bookendish subtle inclusion of Life in Technicolour at the end) and the album is better for it. Strawberry Swing sits a little awkwardly on the album, maybe because it's very different from anything they've done before thus sounding slightly different from the rest of the album. But It might be one of the bands best tracks yet.
Since Parachutes the band have pushed towards something bigger. A bit more experimental and bit less predictable, but with this record, with trying to be more "unpredictable" and intellectual the band crafted a record that's not only pretty good (the best since Parachutes certainly) but entirely predictable. Daring for a million seller but still safe, for a band with their success, and not totally worthless, it could have been so much more. Discounting the artwork and title, its not too pretentious, and is better for it. On the basis of the 10 (11) tracks here, Coldplay have done enough to satisfy the critics and the fans on both counts: magaing to stay with the huge sound that made them an arena act, but the song craft that took to that place in the first place. Vida la Viva is good, but could have been much better.