Coldplay released their fourth the album this week: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (EMI/ Capitol Records). The cover of Viva la Vida features a painting of Eugène Delacroix's (1798- 1863) Liberty Leading The People of 1830 that commemorates the French Revolution — with graffiti added for "artistic merit" I suppose.
After a successful X&Y of 2005, I suppose Viva la Vida will be surely be heard all over the airwaves, on the music charts, and will propel the band’s tour which arrives in Boston on August 4th.
With a painting that commemorates the French Revolution on the cover, I was unsure of what to find inside. Irony, pretense or simply cluelessness about the horrors of the French Revolution were my top three initial expectations. After a few spins irony could be safely ruled out. With Chris Martin gracing the cover of Rolling Stone magazine this week in 19th century dress pretense took the top slot as the next likely candidate.
Why not irony? Well, Guns and Roses’ “Used to Love Her” (1988) is the model example of a song with objectively bad lyrics in terms of subject matter. However, given its simple and upbeat nature, “Used to Love her” clearly is irony.
In Viva la Vida, Coldplay, once again, showcases their familiar knack for beautiful melodies. However, the lyrics of Vida la Vida, in my estimation, show that Coldplay’s writing skills are quickly nearing the lower levels of quality. They may be trying to compete with Sting in the genre! I’m really disappointed that they are depressing and somewhat problematic in juxtaposition to the mostly catchy tunes. They are very much non-inspirational in contrast to say the lyrics of U2, The Fray, or early R.E.M..
Clueless? Case in point: “Strawberry Swing” … well, it’s easy to link this song the horrors of the French Revolution. A macabre “celebration” is not my cup o’ tea!
At times I wanted to consign Vida la Vida to the category of “make it stop”. (To date, I have only consigned two albums to this category: Wendy & Lisa’s Fruit At The Bottom (1989) and Cheap Trick’s Rockford (2006)). Vida la Vida was spared.
Nevertheless, Vida la Vida has its merits. Coldplay with organ, traditional melodies (found at an English soccer match?), and the falsetto voice of Chris Martin present something familiar and a sound that should be welcomed. The band taps into the John Lennon piano heritage with the greatest of ease. Perhaps songs like “42” would be what a “modern Beatles” would sound like? “Strawberry Swing” and “Violet Hill” are favorites here already. These melodies are already in my head and will perhaps be there for a while. The soundtrack to the summer of ’08 may have arrived this week!
Overall Viva la Vida is a pretty good album but not a great one.
Image: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friend (©2008 EMI/ Capitol Records)