Thursday, June 12, 2008

THE REVIEW CORNER -- Coldplay: Viva la Vida (2008 issue, Capitol)

Ouch! Things look a bit painful here.
I tend to be a bit of a stuffy room when it comes to taking in new bands.

As much as I try to keep an open mind on something new, it takes something very very special to get my attention, let alone to get me to like it.

I've been better about it recently, and it's bore some great fruit with newer English bands like Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, and Coldplay.

Of course it depends on your definition of "new." For me, new basically means since the mid-1990s. Part of my issue with getting into a "new" band is that I am attracted to staying power and the way a band showcases itself live. That's a little difficult to do with a "new band," because staying power doesn't mean you're new anymore now, does it?

What can I say - it's a spindrift clusterfunck down the crapper. What do you do.

Coldplay as a "new" band

That all being said, one my "newest" favorite rock bands (who put out their first full-length album Parachutes in 2000) are set to put their 4th studio album out next week. Viva la Vida, Coldplay's latest offering, came out in the UK today and will be released in the US next week.

Coldplay are one of those rare contemporary bands who are a bit of a throwback. They're timeless, yet modern. When I listen to them I hear a mishmash of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and U2...along with a little Radiohead and R.E.M. However, they achieve a beauty, elegance, and flow to their music that in some ways eclipses all those other bands.

I'm not saying Coldplay is "better" than Radiohead, U2, or the Beatles. I'm pointing out what I can only describe as a "flow" or "elegance" as their strongest suit...a very strong suit. Some of it has to do with a combination of their sound and how they lock into a groove. Coldplay is developing a catalog of albums that I believe can start to be viewed as a body of work holding up next to the greatest of the greats.

Viva la Vida picks up on the evolution of a band who started releasing their recording output in the late 90s with an EP Brothers and Sisters (1999), then with their first full-length CD Parachutes (2000). That was followed by A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002), Live 2003, and X&Y (2005).

If you give the band a chronological listen, you can hear their sound evolving. It's a compelling analysis of how a young band can mature their sound. Viva la Vida drives that point home, only hinting at the brilliant future that lays ahead for this British quartet.

Viva la Vida is a really interesting listen - I'm on about my third go-around with it. I love picking up the evolving details of new releases. The album seems to touch on the subject matter of life and death, in that timeless "Coldplay mosaic" we've come to expect from them...much in the same way that X&Y was about the subject of balance.

An analysis of Viva la Vida

Coldplay is starting to mix up their song structures now, as they open up the album with the instrumental "Life in Technicolor," which carries with it the sound of epic drama, like the full gale wind blowing through an open window and messing up the neatly organized paperwork on the kitchen table.

The short opening instrumental morphs into the haunting funeral dirge of "Cemeteries of London," which brings home the great effect and imagery indicated by its title.

"Lost!" brings in Chris Martin on the organ and drives up the tempo a bit. It makes me wonder if the band is a fan of the television program.
"42," the 4th track, brings up the concept of death once again - but not in a depressing sense. The song opens up with a lines: "Those who are dead are not dead - they're just living in my head." Then the song performs a tempo shift to the playful lines of: "You thought you might be a ghost - you didn't get to have it but you made it close."
"Lovers in Japan /Reign of Love" has the makings of a great song, and at first listen seems to be aimed at families and friends of those in the military. "Lovers in Japan" opens up with the words: "Lovers...keep on the road you're on. Mothers...until the race is run.'ve got to soldier on. Sometimes...even the right is wrong." Again, this track features a tempo shift to the beautiful "Reign of Love."
"Yes /Chinese Sleep Chant" is another song structure mishmash if you like, opening with an Middle Eastern feel to it like one might find on Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" from their 1975 hodge-podge classic Physical Graffiti. This is one of those dark horse tracks that might not make it on the radio, but heavily compliments the mosaic of the album.
The title track "Viva la Vida" is another one of those radio-friendly Coldplay classics that everyone will come to know, in the vein of "Speed of Sound" from 2005's X&Y.
As the band has indicated in recent interviews, "Violet Hill" is a nod to the Beatles. That element is immediately recognizable, as it carries the Lennon-esque feel from "I am the Walrus" off 1967's Magical Mystery Tour.
"Death and All of His Friends /The Escapist" seems to be a rallying cry against war and the eventual but unnecessary plague of death that comes with it. It embraces the concept in a general way without getting politicized or referring to specific events such as something like Iraq, or Vietnam, or the bloody revolutions of centuries past.
Once again, the last portion of this song, "The Escapist," ends the album in a mini-soundscape to round off this unusual but very listenable album.
Soundscape to mini-jam to soundscape
Viva la Vida is yet another perfectly crafted work from one of the great rock bands of this decade. It pushes the band in new directions, as it's very bold an innovative in its song structures. It combines a wide range of differing and contrasting sounds together into what I can only describe as "soundscape to mini-jam to soundscape," teetering back and forth. While pushing forward with this interesting lineup of songs, it also looks over its shoulder at band influences such as The Beatles, as they have done with "Violet Hill."
Brian Eno's production stands out as usual. The slick feel and classical accents in many of the songs are part of his stamp.
There's something to be said about creating not only a unique sound, as Coldplay has successfully done in their short career with several albums, but also a feel and vibe to a work such as Viva la Vida. In this regard, I'm at a point with Coldplay where I can say "I'm in the mood for X&Y," or "I'm in a mood for Viva la Vida," and reach for whatever will enhance the mood I'm in at the time.
There aren't many bands that I frame in that sort of light...but Coldplay's one of them. ...and it's my honor.
Cool album cover!
I also have to say I'm a sucker for a cool album cover, and this Delacroix is one of the best I've seen. The guy fighting the battle in that top hat makes me chuckle every time I look at it. Inspiring stuff...
"I'm ready to go out my own way" I imagine Mr. Top Hat is thinking, if that's what the master plan has in store for him.
I can't get enough of this cover...I could simply stare at this thing for hours tripping out on it while listening to the music...time well spent, in my opinion. That's what album covers are all about; the audio-visual experience that brings the imagination to life. A perfect fit for the Coldplay mosaic.
That's also why I'm picking up the limited edition vinyl version of Viva la Vida. This one's going up on the wall, baby.
These boys from Britain have put out another classic to bookend their catalog. "God Save the Queen!" S
For those of you who like a little history on a band, here's the "Coldplay Kool-Aid" if you like...

Coldplay never intended to become England's favorite rock & roll sons when their signature rock melodies ruled the charts throughout 2000. The Brit rock quartet -- composed of Chris Martin (vocals/piano), Jon Buckland (guitar), Will Champion (drums), and Guy Berryman (bass) -- yearned to mess around a bit, plucking their own acoustics for fun while attending the University College of London. All had been playing instruments since their early teens and had been influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Stone Roses, Neil Young, and My Bloody Valentine.
They never imagined taking reign of the U.K.'s ever-changing rock scene. Each member had come from a solid household of working-class parents who encouraged music. Martin, the eldest of five, began playing the piano as a young child. He started playing in bands around age 15 and sought solace in the words of Tom Waits. Buckland, on the other hand, was into the heavy guitar work of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and was playing guitar by age 11. Scotland native Berryman was into funk instead of indie rock, therefore leaving him to play bass. The multi-instrumentalist, Champion, didn't plan to be a drummer until he joined Coldplay. He favored playing guitar, bass, and the tin whistle, but caught on to playing percussion when the band became official.
Coldplay was heart-rending like Travis, passionate like Jeff Buckley, and as fresh as Oasis when they burst onto the scene. They had played their first gig at a festival for unsigned bands in Manchester, and the Safety EP was issued shortly thereafter. The Brothers & Sisters EP was issued by Fierce Panda and released a year later. (Both releases saw only 500 pressings.) Their sweet melodies and swooning lyrics landed Coldplay a U.K. deal with Parlophone in April 1999, and the five-track limited-edition Blue Room EP followed that fall. With nods from the media, the dream pop foursome was hailed as the next Travis, thanks to their simplistic acoustics and charming personas. Two more EPs, Shiver and Yellow, arrived in spring 2000.
Their full-length debut, Parachutes, earned the band a Mercury Music Prize in the U.K. It saw a U.S. release in November 2000, and a month later "Yellow" was chosen as the theme song for all promo spots for ABC. The well-received hype surrounding Coldplay continued throughout 2001 as well; they were nominated for three Brit Awards and embarked on a sold-out ten-date tour of the U.S. Rumors of a split consumed most of the U.S. tour. Martin frequently battled nasty colds and voice exhaustion, which led Coldplay to cancel a series of American dates and scrap a European tour. With all gossip aside, Coldplay resumed playing in summer 2001 and earned additional success with second single "Trouble."
By fall, they headed into the studio for a second album. Rumor had it that it might be Coldplay's last album, for the bandmembers felt they might not capture such brilliance again. A Rush of Blood to the Head was released in August 2002. The CD/DVD package Live 2003 was issued one year later. Capturing the band's show at the Horden Pavilion in Sydney, Australia, it highlighted Coldplay's monumental success worldwide with A Rush of Blood to the Head. Martin specifically earned a higher notch on the celebrity scale by marrying actress Gwyneth Paltrow in December 2003. Paltrow gave birth to the couple's first daughter, Apple Blythe Alison Martin, the following April.
Fatherhood didn't stop Martin from working, as Coldplay began recording material for a third album within weeks. Previously recorded material with longtime producer Ken Nelson was scrapped early on, while Danton Supple (Morrissey, the Cure) joined Coldplay to complete the recording of X&Y. "Speed of Sound" marked Coldplay's first single from their long-awaited third effort in spring 2005; the album followed in June, topping the charts around the world, including America and Britain. ~ MacKenzie Wilson, All Music Guide

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