After 3 long years, the kings have returned. X&Y, their last album, was a worldwide smash success but nevertheless it was arguably flawed, peppered with too much filler. For every Square One or Fix You there was a Swallowed By The Sea. The formula was wearing thin and not a band to sit on their laurels, Coldplay went into deep hibernation. Over the past 3 years they have travelled the globe seeking inspiration and rejuvination. Bringing in frequent U2 collaborator Brian Eno to produce the new matrial, Coldplay have attempted to inject a freshness into their sound and to a certain degree, it has worked.
Lets begin by stating that Viva La Vida is unmistakably Coldplay. Those expecting a drastic departure will be disappointed. There may only be one "anthem" so to speak (the title track) but apart from that, its very much the album you'd expect. It begins with the nice instrumental "Life in Technicolor" before sliding into the solemn "Cemeteries of London". So far so good but unfortunately the following tracks "Lost!" and "42" fail to hit the mark, mired by poor lyrics and rather bland composition. With the amount of tracks apparently on the cutting room floor, you wonder how these two made it onto the album. "Lovers in Japan / Reign of love" is the first of the albums much talked about double-tracks. Essentially 2 songs stuck together to make it better value for iTunes customers, they add a bit of variety to the pack. However, "Lovers in Japan" is another by-the-numbers track and the tinge of disappointment with the album is becoming more apparent.
But fear not, for the rest of the album picks up somewhat. "Yes / Chinese Sleep Chant" is much more interesting. With Chris Martin's low vocals, "Yes" becomes almost a deliberate counterpart to the standard Coldplay fare. Its edgy and cynical (as edgy and cynical as you can get for Chris Martin) and when it gives way to the shoegaze fuzz of "Chinese Sleep Chant", you begin to feel that maybe they are capable of breaking out of their stereotype.
The singles "Viva La Vida" and "Violet Hill" follow next and are the best tracks on the album. The title track soars with a contagious energy and synth pulse that propels the song through its orchestral crescendoes and church bells. "Violet Hill" is a starkly contrasting song which is by turns aggressive and fragile. Guitars wail like bomb warnings and add a satisfying crunch to Martin's rather impressive (for once) lyrics. The delicate piano outro of the song adds a tragic beauty to the preceeding anger and places the song in the upper echelons of Coldplay's work.
Strawberry Swing is a chirpy, upbeat song with a laid-back atmosphere that lends itself so well to the lyrical themes. If ever a song made you think of lying down on the grass on a summer's day this is it. Martin sings with a smile on his face and it shines through on the track. The final track "Death And All His Friends / The Escapist" starts slow as a piano ballad but then builds into a typical Coldplay anthem which would rock stadiums everywhere if it wasnt for the fact that its short run-time and album-closer composition deliberately and smartly removes this mandate. The hidden track "The Escapist" features the same instrumental as the opening track only this time with added lyrics. It is very short but a nice little epilogue to the album.
So all in all? Well its a good album. Heck in some respects I may love it. It rewards repeat listens and when taken in its entirety, is a much more varied album than previous efforts. There are moments of greatness on here but they cant disguise a few misfires that unfortunately prevent the album from becoming the revolution it sought to be. There is something missing. Songs like "Lost!" should not have made the cut, especially when compared to the singles. Taken on a song by song basis, its easy to see the faults but Coldplay dont want you to listen to individual songs. They crafted an album for album-listener and in that respect, its a success.
Verdict: *** (3/5)