Straight out the starting gates, let me clarify one thing: I am not a Coldplay fan. They offended me at the beginning of this millennium with the over-played song 'Yellow' that frankly reminded me of urine while incorporating far too much falsetto for my tastes. That pretty much sets the stage for my level of anticipation concerning their fourth studio album, Viva La Vida (or Death and All His Friends). It's exceptionally important for me to point out the Death and All His Friends bit or you might get confused with albums by such artists as Carnival in Coal, Nina Stern or 2Shine who all have recently released albums entitled 'Viva la Vida', as well.

'Viva la Vida', as you might've guessed, is a Spanish phrase meaning either 'Long Live the Life' or simply, 'Live the Life.' In this particular instance it's a reference to Mexican painter Frida Kahlo's 1954 painting which bears that title. However, do not be fooled! The painting on the front of the album turns out to be 'La Liberte guidant le peuple' (English: Liberty Leading the People), a famous work of art by French Romantic Impressionist Eugene Delacroix. I found this odd, so I quickly searched out both Kahlo's painting. It's a still life work in oil featuring watermelons which might not quite convey the avante garde approach the band's going for here.

I must say that this album's my very first digital download. Prior to this review I stuck mainly to buying CDs, but with the speed of gratification Amazon offered, I simply had to try it. Easy as pie! I hadn't heard the singles 'Violet Hill' (a nod to the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' due to the two songs being titled after streets near one another) so I came upon my first listen of the album with no clue what to expect. All I knew I'd read earlier and I hadn't read much. Here's a tip, though: Brian Eno helped out with this latest Coldplay offering. In case you're unaware, he's the guy who pretty much founded the 'modern ambient' sound you hear from groups like Devo, David Bowie, U2 or Talking Heads. If it sounds a touch techno, that's Eno's influence.

And it does sound a touch techno, all throughout the album. It also shows off its roots in Hispanic acoustics which is unsurprising considering they wrote the album while on tour in Latin American nations at the beginning of 2007. Beyond that, the band actually went to churches in Spain and elsewhere, to play and record their music in an attempt to grab the right sounds. The feel they stated they wanted sonically? Reminiscent of famous old paintings. Strangely enough, it comes through in places.

As an album, the songs flow smoothly from track to track. We start with an instrumental (Life in Technicolor) which features some spacey guitar work and digitally altered vocals. Then we're walking down a darker corridor (Cemeteries of London) which comes off wistful and reminds me of a British dirge or patriotic tune. Next there's a turn for Chris Martin, the lead singer, as he begins to remind me of Sting. That track (Lost!) came by its influence from Blur's 'Sing', part of the soundtrack for the film Trainspotting. While I didn't care for it, the guitar work kept me entertained until the oddly titled '42' came in. There's piano and orchestral sounds for this one, almost as if they were going for a ghostly feel then it takes a weird turn and comes out catchier towards the end.

'Lovers in Japan' starts in faster, picking up the album's pace which by this point is welcome but not unnatural. It's interesting, but what follows (Yes) bears a far more distinct groove and has Martin trying out a growly sort of scream I'd like to hear more of. What's interesting about 'Yes' is that it felt vaguely Soviet in sound and Kahlo herself has been noted as an "active communist sympathizer". Part-way through Yes the music explodes before we launch into one of the title tracks, Viva la Vida. Disappointedly, there's not much of note on this one. It's Coldplay proving they're the same band - typical pop with a soaring tone. Then there's the first single, 'Violet Hill' which brings in more of Martin's falsetto, but it's a foot stomper. What I find curious about this track is a lyrical line in the chorus, "If you love me won't you let me roam". While I read about about Frida Kahlo, I noticed she married famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The two had a fiery "open relationship", so I'm inclined to believe this song's lyrics may reference that facet of the artist who inspired its title.

Violet Hill's going to be available as a download for Guitar Hero III. It's said to be an anti-war protest song. It's certainly clear why Coldplay chose this one for the single. It's much meatier which for me, means it serves as something of a core for the album. We begin our downward swing here with 'Strawberry Swing' that has a decent tune but not much more to offer before dropping us off with 'Death and All His Friends' which bears more Martin falsetto, but ends well closing the album. Actually, it not only closes the album the same tune that ends this final track is identical to the beginning of 'Life in Technicolor', the first track. Cheeky little devils, those Coldplay boys, leading us to replay their album!

Overall, there are portions of the album that really do deliver on the band's promises of breaking new ground. They achieved the feeling they meant to achieve, but stayed with the commerically-appealing sound on enough tracks to guarantee them a fair amount of radio play. Personally, it felt to me as if this album represented their attempt to revolutionize not the world, but their own musical world. They're having to balance artistic desires with label demands, not to even mention what we listeners may want from them. I believe the record's got enough sincere parts that, as a whole, the album's a victory for Coldplay.

However, for me personally, that's one battle - not the war. I'm still not sold on Coldplay as genuinely relevant artists, but that may well change after a few more listens. On a scale of 1 to 5, I believe they've earned a 3. Better than much of what's available by groups of similar commercial success, but falling short of truly sounding the battle cry for revolution. In the end, they may be 'Living the Life' but they've not changed mine.

Lyrics submitted by mike

Coldplay - Viva la Vida (Death and All His Friends) song meanings
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  • +1
    General Commentviva la vida is the best colplay album since a rush of blood to the head. the best songs on the album are: lost, 42, lovers in japan, viva la vida and death and all his friends.

    i found this album to be deeper than x and y. much more meaning behind each song.

    this album sounds more like the coldplay you see at their concerts. "hard" soft rock!

    loved it!!!

    and yellow is my favourite song! a great song to have as a first single. and its the best when you see it live. yellow lights, yellow balloons that pop and let out yellow glitter! AWESOME!
    elsarino!on July 02, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThanks for that quite thoughtful review. I will definitely check out the album (I may even download it the way you recommended)!
    slab64on July 07, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentVery high quality, insightful and honest review, Mike. I too am not not a Coldplay fan (I primarily love my 80s indie stuff from Manchester - New Order, Joy Division, Smiths, etc - & I also dislike Yellow!) and there are really only two of their songs that ever really appealed to me (Talk & Viva la Vida), more so for what their lyrics meant to me than their catchy "poppiness", for want of a better word. You certainly know your stuff and I look forward to reading more of your reviews, because I can trust what you say and think. Cheers mate & all of the best to you.
    wunderkind73on March 07, 2012   Link

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