On The Record: Coldplay Get Massively Minimal on Viva la Vida
Given everything contained within, it’s fitting that Coldplay decided to saddle their new album with two seemingly disparate titles (it’s called Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, in case you weren’t aware). Because if anything, it’s the most bipolar thing they’ve ever done.
Lyrically, it’s obsessed with the duality of, well, everything, full of ruminations on life and death, corporeal pleasure and spiritual anguish, the emptiness of wealth and the reverence of poverty (all sung by a millionaire rock star with an Academy Award-winning wife, of course). Musically, it’s Sagrada Familia-massive and quark-microscopic, all strings and church bells one moment, tiny tack piano and shimmery joules of synthesizer the next (and surprisingly organic for an album produced by an electronic legend like Brian Eno). And thematically, it’s hyper-focused on both the celebration of living and the bloody business of revolution, two yin/yang ideals that sort of make sense as one unified concept when you think about it long enough. In keeping with that (non) ideal, the album takes its title from a sunny Frida Kahlo painting, yet features an overwrought Eugène Delacroix work on the cover.
Basically, there are about 15 albums buried somewhere within Viva, each about wildly different things, and each of varying degrees of quality. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, though it does make “reviewing” it in any real context next to impossible.
So rather than attempt to do just that, perhaps the best approach is to consider the album in a vacuum, completely devoid of any context whatsoever. This isn’t a review of Viva la Vida, since: A) to review is to contextualize, and an album of this scope, depth and breadth can’t really fit into any single set of conditions; and B) since when would any Coldplay fan be swayed by a review anyhow?
(In other Coldplay news, read about our reporter’s sorta-lunch with Chris Martin before the MTV Movie Awards.)
So here’s what’s good about the album: It opens and closes with a single piece of music, a pretty and shiny bit of bookend-ry the band co-wrote with electronic artist Jon Hopkins. It is worldly and mature without being overly so. From Martin’s decidedly lower singing range to Jonny Buckland’s churchly and majestic guitar work, Viva sounds very much like a band stretching its legs, having earned the right to do so, yet in a testament to Coldplay themselves (or perhaps Eno), there’s also a level of self-awareness that only comes with the realization that most records that feature a band “stretching its legs” are terrible.
The songs display scope and execution, whether it’s the Bolero guitars below “Cemeteries of London,” the stomping build of “42,” or the twisting, R&B middle of “Violet Hill.” And there are three tracks on the record that effortlessly combine two songs into one: “Lovers in Japan/ Reign of Love” starts off with a spacey player piano and morphs into a dainty minuet; “Yes/ Chinese Sleep Chant” begins with swoony strings, switches into a horny take on a Spiritualized jam and concludes with Martin’s voice trapped behind a wall of ice; and “Death and All His Friends/ The Escapist” closes the record with pretty pianos, a big, pounding exercise in drums and finally the same spacey bit that opened the album, this time with Martin singing, “And in the end/ We lie awake and we dream of making an escape.”
And since we’re on the subject, Martin writes with both an alarming openness and a disarming obtuseness on the record. In the case of the former, “Lost!” sees him keening, “Just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost”; “Yes” has him singing, “When it started we had high hopes/ Now my back’s on the ropes” in one bit, then “It’s not easy when she turns you on” in another; and “Violet Hill” features him pleading, “If you love me/ Won’t you let me know.” In the case of the latter, there’s “Viva La Vida,” which seems to be sung from the perspective of deposed French monarch Charles X; “Death and All His Friends” has him begging, “So come over, just be patient, and don’t worry” to no one in particular; and “42” is full of mentions of ghosts denied entry to heaven and “those who are dead … living in my head.” (I told you dude was bipolar!)
As for the bad, well, it’s basically all the same stuff that’s good about the album. There’s an awful lot of ground to cover — Viva really, truly sounds like a band trying to be all things to all people — but when you’re a band as massive as Coldplay, that’s just covering your bases since, you know, “all people” is your core demographic.
And to that point, everything I just wrote is null and void. Who’s going to like Coldplay’s new record? Everyone who liked their previous records, which is to say pretty much everyone on the planet. Blog snobs? Check (they’ll begrudgingly admit to liking Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head). Sorority girls? Yep (huge fans of “Fix You,” think Chris Martin is hot). Business guys who love to cut loose on the weekend? Count them in (saw band at rock-radio fest, own iPod because of “Viva la Vida” commercial). The Coldplay army is massive and loyal. They will follow you to the ends of the earth. And buy, buy, buy — no matter what.
And you get the feeling that’s also why Viva is so, well, everything. Happy, sad, cavernous, claustrophobic, beautiful, depraved … it all depends on which version you’re hearing this time around. Is the record great? Yeah, parts of it. Is it better than X&Y? Definitely. Rush of Blood? Maybe, but probably not. Then again, you might disagree. Long live life, indeed. But also, let’s hear it for death. Depends which part of the demo you’re in.
David Cook-Gate: The Fall Out, or ’Letters, I Get Lots of Angry Letters’
If you ever want to get positively leveled by e-mails that question both your sexuality and your patriotism, all you’ve got to do is pen a column that pokes fun at “American Idol” champ David Cook and certain segments of the U.S. population. That’s what happened to me in the wake of last week’s Bigger Than the Sound, and I’d like to share a few of the best with you here. It’s pretty safe to say that I broke the Internet in Texas and Alabama. [Editor’s note: We’re not losing our touch. We’ve just left these e-mails unedited so you can fully enjoy them.]
“Your attempt to bash anything not far Left using trash/spin in article about ’American Idol’ young man,,,,,,(David Cook)^ an innocent hard working *talented young man & his career to do it,,, nauseated me to no end!!!
“How f’n dare u?? Pissed me off to no end,, at the level evil (YES evil is what I read in to that article) will go to spread hate in the atmosphere in a sad attempt to DICTATE their ideology……
“YOU WERE RIGHT on one not so well hidden fear, in that AMERICA for the most part is Center Right, Politically… More traditionalists,, &WE ARE SLEEPING Giants,, in numbers, so:
“Be careful how often & how deep u insult & bash the lot of us… Heard of ’jump the shark?’ YOU LEFTIES HAVE Done it, or getting pretty close to it! Maybe your side doesn’t deserve to ever get serious power anymore.. I think I’ll write a few checks to McCain & Republicans,, ty for reminding me..”
-Anonymous, submitted in purple, italicized comic sans
“You think you are a satirist, but you are just an extremely poor writer. Those who have posted on the website have made all of the relevant arguments against your inane and offensive column. All I can add is ’ditto’ to them all. You should be fired, or maybe arrested, for impersonating a columnist. You have managed to offend every person in America including those living in NYC who are not you. I can’t imagine that any of them would want to claim you as their representative. What drek!”
“James Montgomery (a.k.a. all that is wrong with music journalism today, or perhaps Josiah Leming in disguise) –
“It’s easy to poke a finger at the Red States, because they think George Bush is always right, they watch Nascar, they think Country music is an acceptable form of entertainment – who with a brain wouldn’t find that all ridiculous? However, the fact that ’mainstream America’ likes Nickelback is not one of those examples that lends itself to a ’red state theory’ of any type. I actually DO listen to (alt) rock radio. I do not listen to Nickelback, and my station would never play it.
“However, the enjoyment of the processed garbage that I believe Nickelback to be is no different than purposely downloading ’No Air’ by Jordin Sparks or that horrifying ’Bleeding Love’ by Leona Lewis. Top 40 is filled with music that makes my soul die, but if it makes other people FEEL something, should I be ready to dismiss that feeling as ridiculous? Are you ready to impose YOUR views on society, trying to sway a person with a mind all their own, who happens to enjoy rocking out to Chad Kroeger with the windows of their Honda Civic rolled all the way down, with the idea that what they enjoy is SHAMEFUL? You bully people into agreeing with your opinion using ’coolness’ and making people feel embarrassed about something they genuinely enjoy. There is more than one thing wrong with ’America,’ and you are one of those things, d—–bag. Right up there with Dick Cheney. Figure it out …”
– Signed, someone who just MUST be a creepy middle-aged lady who wants to throw her underpants at David Cook, who also happens to be so unhip that she doesn’t realize that Josiah Leming is the second coming of Bob Dylan. HOW HAS SHE NOT SLIT HER WRISTS, YET?
Any more? BTTS@MTVStaff.com.