[sic] Magazine

Coldplay – Viva la vida or death and all his friends

Review by Jamie Milton

It’s a rare moment when I feel genuinely guilty about reviewing music and on occasion, slating a record. Because clearly, on the evidence of Coldplay’s fourth record, critical response can be far too important to a band. As a result of the countless average reviews ‘X & Y’ received, it must have seemed necessary for the band to write the anti-‘X & Y’, the ‘Y & X’ perhaps?

Too often in ‘Viva La Vida’ Coldplay aim towards the complete opposite of the way they work best. Simplistic songwriting which as Chris Martin admits, “sounds like a cross between Westlife and Radiohead” always seems to do the trick and even though it’s one of the most uncool things to admit on a credible music forum or a school playground, the first two Coldplay albums were nothing short of masterpieces and yes, ‘X & Y’ was drab, fruitless and far too ambitious but you can’t help but feel that once again, Martin and co. have made the wrong move.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments to shed a tear or let out a yelp of joy to. Coldplay still know how to write a fantastic song or two. The two title-tracks are the highlights. ‘Viva La Vida’ is the first we come across, Brian Eno’s sampled strings commence and never fade, the band sound triumphant, assured, confident, It’s the best thing Coldplay have written since ‘The Scientist’. The closer ‘Death and All His Friends’ is equally glorious – a testimony towards the fact that Coldplay always sound better dressed in their stadium attire. Reaching its climax with a thrilling Buckland riff, it’s a thousand times better than ‘Fix You’ and a thousand feet taller than anything else on the record.

And there are other times in which they nearly reach perfection. ‘Yes’ is moody, covered in a European gypsy spirit and is let down by its instrumental second-half. The same second-half syndrome comes about in ’42’, despite its petty opening lyrics of “those who are dead, are not dead, they’re just living in my head”, it’s a haunting affair – the most ‘Rush Of Blood To The Head’-esque moment on the record. But that urge for a departure in sound arrives one and a half minutes in, as the full-band line-up attempt to “bridge gaps” and “explore” new sounds with a full-throttle “rocky” foot forward, it essentially comes off as pretentious and desperate and even if we didn’t know Coldplay as well as our relatives, this edgy party-pooper would still be un-welcomed. ‘Cemeteries of London’ fortunately, doesn’t fall at the same hurdle. Chants of “la-la-la-la-ley!” are stunning, conjuring up a spirit Coldplay have yet to unleash and when they initially revealed that they would be delving into “foreign elements”, this was the ideal sound that cropped into our heads.

But this overall cry for forgiveness, welcoming and love is so obvious and perhaps needless – ultimately putting to ruin the gems on the record. When a band can write a song as delightful and simplistic as ‘Strawberry Swing’, there’s simply no need for it. The weakness of ‘Violet Hill’ is its doomsday piano chords, the weakness of ‘Life In Technicolour’, the reason why it drags a little, is because it’s instrumental. Poor Coldplay. They were never meant to be different, they were never meant to be popular amongst the ‘musical critique’ and they should never have taken a single spiteful review to heart because on ‘Viva La Vida’ they simply don’t sound themselves.