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Coldplay Improves With 'Viva la Vida': OhMyNews (Grade: B)


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While not as impressive as their first two albums, 'Vida' takes a step in the right direction


There are many words that might aptly describe Coldplay as they are known today, but not many will fit better than "polarizing." It isn't difficult to find people who absolutely adore the band's music, and have done so ever since their widely embraced debut album, Parachutes. Just take a look at all the arenas around the world the band manages to sell out.


But it's just as easy to find those who cannot stand Coldplay's music, oftentimes described as depressing, insufferable and whiny.


This is not lost on Coldplay. The band is well aware of the general public's perception of them. Chris Martin, the band's very visible lead singer, attributed the title of their latest studio album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends to this very phenomenon.


In a recent interview with The Guardian's Craig McLean, Martin said, "We thought it was funny that some people would listen to a song of ours and find it really warm and embracing. And other people would listen to the same song and find it really miserable. So we thought, this time, let's not tell anyone what they're supposed to think. If you find it depressing, you can call it 'Death and All His Friends.' And if you find it uplifting, 'Viva La Vida.' And if you're into mining, you call it 'Or[e].'"


Viva la Vida isn't likely to sway large crowds of listeners to one end or the other, but fans and detractors alike can rest assured that the band's latest effort is a step away from their previous album, X&Y. While X&Y was mired in bombastic songs that seemed made just to be played in large arenas, Viva la Vida finds Coldplay stripping down to find a much more nuanced sound. This works for the better and for the worse.


After just the first listen, Viva la Vida has striking differences from Coldplay's previous works. Seemingly influenced by their short time spent in South America, the album (whose title is enough of a hint in itself) seems to have a Latin American twang to it, from the staccato strings on the title track, to the Spanish-sounding guitar strumming in "Cemeteries of London." The band even manages to give off a charming, subtle Asian vibe on "Lovers in Japan." This may sound strange and unwise on paper, but Coldplay does a fairly decent job pulling it off without losing too much of their core sound.


Viva la Vida also has a freer resonance to it. Of all their works to date, this album is the most musically upbeat, which is a pleasant surprise. It sounds as if the musicians were more determined to enjoy the fruits of their labor, instead of being so concerned about living up to the expectations of those filled-to-the-brim arenas. This brighter sound is most prevalent on "Strawberry Swing," a delightful tune that effectively conveys the "perfect day" that Martin croons about in the song.


"Yes" is another strong track that offers a glimpse of the band's passionate and playful side. It starts out with swooning strings that trick you into expecting another drippy, lovesick song, but which quickly slide down and out to make way for a bold song about sexual temptation. Martin may have his strongest vocal performance of the album on "Yes," which allows him to sustain his voice in the lower range quite successfully. He exudes an edge that he has not shown before (vocally at least; run-ins with the paparazzi aside) and conveys emotions akin to those you might find at a showdown in the Wild West, which is quite fitting.


"Yes" is Coldplay's pinnacle achievement on the album, as the band uses strong instrumental performances to back up robust vocals and engaging lyrics while sounding almost nothing like it has in the past.


However, on most of the other tracks on Viva la Vida lyrics seem to be a weakness and an area where Martin and company have taken a slight step backward. In the past, the band was able to communicate layered meanings and significance through mostly vague lyrics.


This was without a doubt one of the key ingredients to the Coldplay concoction that drew so many fans to begin with. On Viva la Vida, most of the lyrics are not vague enough to ignite strong affections and step over the line into a bit too much specificity. It's a difficult balancing act, for sure, and the band seems to have made a conscious effort to offer lyrics with layered depth on this album, but that is precisely the problem.


One interesting thing to note is that Martin seems much less wary of singing lyrics that are outright religious. Some of their past songs hinted at spiritual references, but on Viva la Vida, mentions of "God," "heaven," "church," "Jerusalem," "missionaries," "St. Peter" and "Bibles" can be plainly heard. God, in particular, garners multiple mentions in the album's songs.


What Coldplay gained in creativity, freshness in sound and cheerfulness, it lost in lyrical strength and overall catchiness. Not that Viva la Vida doesn't have its fair share of songs that will be sure to cause a few million people to tap their feet and bob their heads, but there is a noticeable dearth of rousing choruses driven by Martin's boyish falsetto. This could very well disappoint more-superficial fans. It will be interesting to see how this translates in their live performances, which are usually quite winsome.


Viva la Vida is a much smoother listen than X&Y, but not as strong as A Rush of Blood to the Head or Parachutes. It won't do much to bridge the gap between the camps that view Coldplay from different grounds, but the band doesn't seem to care as much anymore. They seem to have shed some of that dreaded self-awareness that hurt their recent musical offerings, and that's a good thing.


Grade: B



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