Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends

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I picked up Coldplay’s latest offering from iTunes Plus yesterday. I never got around to buying X & Y… so my most listened to Coldplay album is definitely A Rush of Blood to the Head. This new album is, in a word, superb. I am in love with it. I’ve listened through it 6 times now maybe, and I think every track brings something wonderful to the collection.

Life in Technicolor is a pretty little instrumental piece that opens the album, slowly building in intensity till some vocal “cheering” joins in near the end. It’s a great starter for what’s to come. Cemeteries of London gets the ball rolling properly, letting us know right off the bat that we’re going to see less falsetto on this album. Lyrically, this song sets the tone for the album as well:

God is in the houses and God is in my head… and all the cemeteries in London…
I see God come in my garden, but I don’t know what he said,
For my heart it wasn’t open…
Not open…

It’s like they grew up and found they had more than just a social conscience, they had souls. Follow this up by the first rendition of Lost (Lost!). Yes, I said the first rendition. If you get it on iTunes, you’ll get two versions of this track, and they’re both stellar. This one is a driving synth organ, bongo drum, hand clap beauty, VERY much feeling Brian Eno’s influence. Next up is 42 (see bottom for thoughts on meaning), with some beautiful piano and delicately rhymed lyrics. I’m a sucker for rhyme.

Those who are dead are not dead
They’re just living in my head
And since I fell for that spell
I am living there as well

Time is so short and I’m sure
There must be something more

Half way through, the bad ass kicks in, earning Coldplay their self described “hardest soft rock band” moniker. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Politik. Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love is a double track, with 2 songs in one. Another heavily Brian Eno influenced track I’m sure. The driving bass line reminds me very much of U2’s Pride (In the Name of Love). Lyrical content is hopeful and uplifting, and the music becomes quite dense as the track goes on, which additional guitars coming into the left channel only, and shakers on the right. Reign of Love lets a little lyrical “beautiful melancholy” out, which is a great primer for the next two tracks. It’s a very tender song, with gentle piano and even gentler guitars.

Yes starts off with a little violin teaser, before pushing into some potential laden acoustic guitars and sawing violin. Chris comes in with a very low voiced

When it started we had high hopes
Now my back’s on the line
My back’s on the ropes

Then out of nowhere comes some furiously ominous Spanish violin. It’s hot stuff. And then we continue:

If you’d only, if you’d only say yes
Whether you will’s anybody’s guess
God only God knows I’m trying my best
But I’m just so tired of this loneliness

Yes actually finishes around 4 minutes, leaving room for a hidden track, Chinese Sleep Chant. This is a pretty psychedelic rock dirge, with haunting falsetto vocals, reminds me a little of Achtung Baby era U2, though it’s lyrically very sparse. And up next is one of the title tracks, Viva la Vida (Live the Life). There’s too many good songs on this album to pick a favourite, but this one might be close. Musically you’re listening to quick violins and other strings, which fill in to what could be a full orchestra. Most of the song rhymes, so I’m sold. Up next is the other contender for favourite, the big single you’ve heard called “Violet Hill.” We’re talking heavy soft rock again here. It’s an incredible tune. Lyrically we’re shouting back to the last track in obvious content, the Crusades, religious warfare, but metaphorically it’s a lot more brooding and angry. And it rhymes, so I’m in further ecstasy.

Priests clutched onto Bibles
Hollowed out to fit their rifles

Snap. Strawberry Swing is next, which is a fun, offbeat “love song”, could have been by the Beatles, except for the blue grass guitars. Death and All His Friends, the other title track, follows up. The first minute is pretty chill, just the piano and Chris’s voice. Guitars join in after then, and some vocal ensemble, followed by a big drum build up and the main rhythm kicks in. Nicely built song, this has a lot of Brian Eno in it, which is certainly not a bad thing. Lyrically it’s very simple but poignant:

No I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end;
I don’t wanna cycle, recycle revenge;
I don’t wanna follow death and all his friends

Following that you get another hidden track, which compliments the first half very well. The Escapist:

And in the end
We lie awake
And we dream
We’ll make an escape

I believe if you’ve got the album on CD, it would end here. On iTunes, and in Japan, we get given another rendition of Lost (Lost?), as I said above. It keeps the lyrics, but replaces all the musical accompaniment of the first with just the piano. I think it’s a marvelous bookend.

Overall, I’m saying 5/5. It’s joyous, uplifting, wholesome and soul searching, and at times made me want to cry. Buy this album.

** 42. This is number of the meaning of life, from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s also the number of songs that Coldplay supposedly scrapped between A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X & Y.