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[Article] Coldplay changes (but just a little)


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Chris Martin is still a poor man’s Thom Yorke, but on Viva la Vida he’s become a more paranoid android.


Kid A this is not. As far as radical reinventions go, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends is far from the sweeping change Chris Martin and company continually teased while they worked on their fourth, Pete Wentz-esque titled album.


The Coldplay aesthetic is a well-defined thing, and Mr. Martin and faceless backing men 1-3 have smartly only superficially expanded their horizons. Coldplay has neither stripped back its sound to Chuck Berry-esque simplicity nor created the Latin-tinged fiesta it often hinted at in the album's advance press. Viva la Vida sounds like one band: Coldplay. And Coldplay sounds like U2, Radiohead and all the sensitive singer-songwriters of the past 20 years rolled into one giant SUV-slaying ball.


As usual, this is being hailed as both the band's greatest strength and greatest weakness.


But Coldplay has not totally reneged on its promise for change. Viva la Vida is certainly not the new Model T the band promised, but it is a self-aware response and improvement aimed directly at the band's detractors.


Gone is the hammed balladry that marred much of X&Y and provided endless fodder for wiseacres from Pitchfork to The New York Times. So, too, are Martin's painfully introspective and earnest lyrics. He still endlessly crows about life, love and death, but from a man so identified with his hopeful ruminations, Viva la Vida is a shockingly refined and sparse lyrical affair. Martin has gone cryptic and morose compared to his formerly preferred hopeful and universal.


In place of the subtractions made to its sound, the band has placed an increased emphasis on string arrangements and instrumental interludes. This provides some extra U2 '80s cheese but also adds some grandeur and mystery to a band who often thought it was more grand and mysterious than it actually was.


This big new addition is somewhat dampened, though, by another one of Coldplay's calculated subtractions: the reduced album length from X&Y.


X&Y was no doubt bloated, but Viva la Vida has gone to the opposite extreme. It listens fine as a whole, being sequenced well and neither frontloaded nor backloaded, but much of the increased instrumental fodder and experimentation sound like filler for a bigger picture.


It's not crap music included to lengthen a CD to appropriate lengths, but instead an endless number of instrumental bookends and interludes. Five of the album's 10 tracks contain extended instrumental or vocal-less sections. Most are delightful but sound detached from a larger work, a work Viva la Vida is not, clocking in at an economical 45 minutes. The world's most infamously bloated band actually comes up sounding a little slight. Even its most intense detractors will be left wanting more if they are forced to listen.


When the guys let the pomp loose, like on title track, second single and no. 1 hit "Viva la Vida," the results are much more befitting of a world's biggest band.


"Lost!" is similarly great. Swirling organs surround Martin's dread-filled lyrics, giving way to a spacey, hypnotic outro that leads into the equally engaging, if not downtrodden "42."


Save for closer "Death and All His Friends" there is little in the way of outward joy. The band members' moods are as much in a (slow) transitional period as the music. "Death"'s end-of-church style rapture is not enough to hide the album's overall pensiveness.


Coldplay has not turned any groundbreaking corners with Viva la Vida, but they have shown they listen, albeit to the critics. This may sour some fans, with the reduced hope and increased thoughtfulness, but it ultimately makes Coldplay more worthy superstars. There is more to hear than just Mr. Martin, his piano and his sadness, and no one can hate that.



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