Sound — 8
Regardless if Coldplay's style of music connects with you, there is a certain reliable quality to the band. There is no shortage of consistently pleasing melodies on the new album Viva La Vida, and you could easily hand-pick the tracks that will likely find their way onto the Billboard charts. You could make the argument that Chris Martin and company have experimented with different sounds on the new record (particularly given the several hidden tracks and the ethereal production of Brian Eno), but in the end, Coldplay never awes like a Radiohead album. For the varied fan base the band has amassed since it formed in 1997, the new material will like be embraced for it's heavy focus on calming melodies.
Many of you have probably already been given a taste of the album if you happen to be a regular TV viewer. The title track can be heard on a new iTunes commercial while Coldplay dances in the shadows, and the song is definitely catchy. Viva La Vida emphasizes Coldplay's upbeat side, which doesn't bring the piano to the forefront like most of the other tracks do. There are multiple layers to each song on the album, and this poppier number is no exception with it's subtle use of a string section. It's an understandable choice as a first single and has arguably the most memorable melody on the playlist.
Coldplay delivers plenty of Scientist-like material on Viva La Vida, but the quartet is most impressive when it enters into unfamiliar territory. The tracks that probably won't receive radio play because of their elaborate arrangements and often melancholy feel are most often the choice cuts. Cemeteries of London seems almost a traditional English folk song during the verses, but Martin takes it in more of a pop direction during the chorus with a series of la-la-las. Yes goes in an even more daring direction by using a violin in classical fashion in the intro, but then taking on a bluegrass fiddle sound. All the while, Martin uses a much lower vocal register that suits the song perfectly.
There are a few songs that feature hidden tracks tacked onto the end as well. Yes morphs into Chinese Sleep Chant, a more straightforward rock track with some nice guitar tones. Death and His Friends, a piano-heavy track that sounds like classic Coldplay fare, develops into the ambient, synth-rich The Escapist. These little bonus additions give Viva La Vida a soundtrack-like quality and work for the most part.
Lyrics — 9
The title track strays from what you might expect a typical radio single to deliver lyrically, offering up some intriguing lines. Martin sings, I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing; Roman cavalry choirs are singing; Be my mirror, my sword, my shield; My missionaries in a foreign field; For some reason I can't explain. This track marks some of the most vivid and inspired lyrics on the album. Not every track sustains this kind of originality, but even the simply-stated lines (They were sitting; They were talking; In the strawberry swing; Everybody was for fighting; Wouldn't wanna waste a thing as heard in Strawberry Swing) have a sentimental quality.
Overall Impression — 8
If you're a fan of Coldplay's piano-led singles that have occupied the airwaves, then you won't be disappointed in Viva La Vida. There's a heavy dose of the mellow, soft rock that the band has delivered in the past, but there is a more ambient sound interwoven into it all. On iTunes there were a few bonus acoustic versions of Lost! and Lovers In Japan, with the first track being basically Martin and his piano. It's the alternate version of Lovers In Japan that makes a bigger impression because of it's rich, layered acoustic guitar arrangement.
Undoubtedly Roxy Music veteran Brian Eno (often called the father of ambient music) had input in the overall sound, but it never gets to the point where dramatic synth lines go on so long that they're driven into the ground. In fact, considering the best tracks sound a bit darker than the usual singles, it probably wouldn't hurt Coldplay to go even further outside of their comfort zone in the future.