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My Viva La Vida - album & track review


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Viva La Vida (or Death and All His Friends)



1. Life in Technicolor


A beautiful piece of acoustic work with some very interesting Indian influences and some uplifting chanting at the end. Coldplay fell in love with acoustic intro/outro on their last tour and it’s clear here (and in final track The Escapist) that they intend to use it again in support of this album.

Grade: B


2. Cemeteries of London


Moody and religious opening notes suggest that an ominous downer of a song lies ahead, but it quickly changes direction, picks up pace and is a joy to listen to till the end. Chris Martin has grown as a songwriter and it’s clear from this opening vocal track that he’s grown as a singer as well.

Grade: A


3. Lost!


This jazzed up version of a song I previously heard only in an acoustic form makes some interesting decisions. On the one hand it loses some of its lyrical beauty amidst the African drumbeats but on the other it helps brings some much needed bounce to the first half of the album. It will be a huge crowd-pleaser – as is often the case for any song with such a high handclap to organ ratio.

Grade: B


4. 42


“Those who are dead are not dead. They’re just living in my head”. Chris Martin’s songwriting initially at its most poetic and haunting suddenly turns funky at the 1:35 mark and launches into some serious guitar driven power rock. The final chorus: “You thought you might be a ghost. You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close” is an interesting spin on the opening lines.

Grade: A


5. Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love


Lovers in Japan opens with piano – lots and lots of piano. The track really puts the Eno touch on full display and will remind many of his work with U2 - rightfully so. It’s driving, anthemic, stadium rock and that’s what U2 and Coldplay are both all about.

Grade: A-


Reign of Love is the most “old-school” of all the tracks on the album. Simply done piano work layered over Chris’ slow soothing lyrics. It’s feels like a fond farewell to the X/Y album and sounds a lot like that album’s final track ‘Til Kingdom Come.

Grade: B+


6. Yes / Chinese Sleep Chant


Yes is clearly the band’s attempt at an answer to those who claim to loathe Chris Martin’s falsetto. I was never truly in that camp but still count me impressed by his vocal work here. If you still don’t like him after listening to this you never will. Just move on. The guitar work reminds me of some tracks off of Sheryl Crow’s Globe Sessions album.

Grade: A


Chinese Sleep Chant, the second half to the track, seems a little confused and somewhat misplaced. Is it a Coldplay piano ballad or is it Radiohead lite? It’s not an awful song just not a very Coldplay-esque one. Still, points for trying.

Grade: B-


7. Viva La Vida


A masterpiece. From the first violin strings, through the rising drum crescendos, to the chanting at end it makes no attempts at hiding its intentions. It wants to be (and is) Coldplay’s best song to date. Next to The Scientist this song will be responsible for bringing the most new fans into the Coldplay fold. It doesn’t hurt that it’ll also sell lots of iPods and Coldplay merch along the way.

Grade: A+


8. Violet Hill


It’s a great thing when a band writes a song that reflects the way they feel about their craft and sings it like they mean it. Violet Hill is that song. They just want to be loved – why not sing about it. It will make a terrific centerpiece to any live performance. Guitar riffs, gentle piano and Chris Martin crooning - a solid sampling of the best Coldplay has to offer.

Grade: A


9. Strawberry Swing


This was the toughest song for me to review because while it’s a well crafted tune it’s unlike anything they’ve done before. The lyrics are a little syrupy for my tastes but the lilting drums, guitar work and Chris’s airy vocals lift the song to a higher plane.

Grade: B+


10. Death and All His Friends / The Escapist


Deaths and All His Friends is a very complex song. It starts off as a comforting poetic close to the album but suddenly and unexpectedly adds a moving guitar riff that eventually builds into a full tilt piano jam by song’s end. It’s a surefire arena pleaser and the choral chant at the end is pure genius. When Coldplay writes songs like this is clear they’re aiming high. When they actually hit their target it’s a thing of beauty.

Grade: A


The Escapist is a bookend track to Life in Technicolor with some lyrics inserted. It’s nothing more than a jazzed up outro but it lends a sense of closure to the proceedings. This song will likely play as the band leaves the stage and it’s adequate in that respect.

Grade: C+




Summary: On first listen, Viva La Vida appears to mark a sudden departure for Coldplay from the things that made them such a huge household name. There’s less reliance on Chris Martin’s falsetto, less piano driven songs and much more guitar and drum influences. While it’s far from a complete re-invention (they still play stadium rock and write songs that are largely meant to be sung to the rafters) it’s a bold and welcome step in a different direction. They’re wise enough to know what makes them a success but still willing enough to take risks with each new album. Risks that while initially jarring, ultimately wind up being extremely rewarding both for the fans (both old and new) and for the band. Some critics like to refer to Coldplay’s reliance on big sounds and anthemic choruses as safe rock – I prefer to call it knowing your audience – but it’s really served them well as they’ve been one of the few bands to actually expand on their listening base with each new release. Viva La Vida ultimately for all it’s leg-stretching will still bring a few new members into the fold of Coldplay fans – and for a band that wishes to be known as the ‘biggest band in the world’ – that’s always a step in the right direction.


Overall Album Grade: B+

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