When Chris Martin isn’t on a crusade for the betterment of mankind, he plays in a little band called Coldplay. His band makes music that will solve all your problems, or at least repeat them for you with a pretty little backdrop.
Nowadays, hating Coldplay has become so trendy that people forget that all the bitterness is because the band had a debut that was so blissful. “Parachutes” found its stride in its simplicity. “A Rush of Blood to the Head” came next and was similar in its easy-going nature. The band’s craving to expand is what many feel is its downfall, with “X&Y” coming off as unfocused.
The band’s pop sensibility has garnered it unparalleled attention in mainstream music, so all eyes were on its fourth record, “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends.” The band soon began recording and hired pop connoisseur Brian Eno to produce the new record.
Eno’s ambient influence is felt immediately with the opener “Life in Technicolor.” There is also an intriguing use of Eastern instrumentation on the track. However, “Cemeteries of London” might be enough to send some listeners away. Unless you’re a fan of unimaginative reverb, handclaps and Martin wailing “la da di da,” this might not interest you. “Lost!” comes next with its clickity-clack percussions and flow that is just enough for you to ignore the generic lyrics that accompany them.
If you want a reminder of how frustrating “X&Y” was, listen to “42.” The song starts off dark with the lyrics, “Those who are dead are not dead / They’re just living in my head.” Those lyrics actually work alongside Martin’s knack for channeling the right emotion into his piano, but the song instantly changes less than halfway through, with guitarist Jonny Buckland imitating a riff similar to Radiohead’s “Go To Sleep.” Buckland has never been the most inventive of guitarists and proves here that maybe he should leave the experimentation to Radiohead’s Greenwood instead. Martin interrupts Buckland to repeat the same line over and over again only to end the song the same way it started, perhaps to remind the listener that it wasn’t always cluttered.
“Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” capitalizes on Coldplay’s stronger points. The first portion is a happy pop song with undeniable hooks, while the last third of the song is a calm piece reminiscent of “Parachutes,” utilizing Martin’s voice, his piano and restrained effects.
“Yes” also splits into two separate songs. The first half starts off majestically with elegant strings while Martin sings about his regrets. The latter half of this song has the band aiming for a surreal lift from the depression of the former half, but this second bit falls flat.
“Viva la Vida” is a prime single. It’s uplifting, catchy and is filled with trademark cutesy Coldplay lyrics. The instrumentation changes enough that the repetitive vocals pass off. “Violet Hill” captures the band getting angry and ends beautifully with a piano breakdown by Martin. A forced song with a gorgeous ending is just another characteristic brought over from “X&Y.”
“Strawberry Swing” is another exceptional track on the record, with a bouncy guitar leading Martin along as he exclaims, “It’s such a perfect day.” “Death and All His Friends” follows with lo-fi minimalism harkening back to the band’s roots, before an obligatory drum rush changes it. This change in tempo may have worked on “Politik,” but it completely derails this song. The album ends by recalling its ambient start.
There’s never been anything wrong with liking Coldplay. Musical sensibility doesn’t always have to be challenged, and some bands are instantly accessible. Coldplay is one of those bands, and you can tell that by the scattered sublime moments on this new album. But the pressure to pull new tricks out of the hat may have gotten to the band and has made its last couple of albums distracted compilations rather than focused units. Musical innovation doesn’t always lead to good music. “Parachutes” isn’t cherished for its innovation, but for its honesty. With all these lofty expectations, one can only hope that this candor hasn’t been lost on a group that was originally so loved for it.