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Viva La Vida

Chris Martin and co. return with another album guaranteed to rock arenas across the world

Rating: 8 / 10

Peter Murphy, 06 Jun 2008

Coldplay: can’t love ’em, can’t not love ’em either. Just when you think you’ve had enough of the band’s middlebrow musicians’ contacts remit (band seeks bassist, influences U2, Buckley, Floyd, no timewasters) and polished modern rock radio sheen, they’ll deliver a killer song like ‘Don’t Panic’ or ‘Talk’ and you have to throw your hands up and surrender all over again.

For Viva La Vida… (the title derives from a Frida Kahlo painting), their fourth album, the band employed the holistic production skills of Brian Eno, and reportedly abandoned the airless cabin fever of the studio for occasional mobile sessions in Spanish language churches. Boil the record’s manifesto down to a bumper sticker? Face death, choose life.

It opens on the custom-built intro-tape instrumental ‘Life In Technicolour’, a gradual fade-in composed of streaming synth arpeggios, expansive chording, sitar and tabla, a statement of intent so unabashed you can glimpse the trusses and gantries tilt, the lights go up, the crowd bouncing en masse to the Adam-esque dum-dum basslines and sky-strafing guitar.

More intriguing is ‘Cemetaries Of London’, which suggests Iain Sinclair set to an old English folk air, slip-jig prog rhythms and flamenco handclaps. Chris has obviously been pounding the pavements of Kensington, pondering the big stuff: ‘42’ (a Hitchhiker’s Guide nod, and the number on the Martin family door) begins as a Final Cut-like piano ballad (“Those who are dead are not dead/They’re just livin’ in my head”) before shifting gear to a kind of Radiohead electro funk slap ‘n’ tickle with Strokes-ian central motif.

‘Lost’ is another eye-opener, employing cathedral organ and the solemn air of Soulsavers’ ‘Revival’. What makes Coldplay so hard to dismiss is simply this: tunes. These guys have absolutely unimpeachable melodic quality control. Hipper, snappier whippersnappers might learn a thing or two from their adherence to bloody good choruses, multi-layered arrangements and hard craft.

So, ‘Lovers In Japan/Reign In Love’ is a windswept stadium anthem overlaid with 80s icicle works, ‘Yes’ a chastened love song and fidelity trial dressed in raga-rock duds and electric violin, ‘Chinese Sleep Chant’ wheels around scorching guitar and airy ‘11 O’Clock Tick Tock’ vocal, while ‘Viva La Vida’ manages to be at once careworn, breezy and Beatlesy.

The only real cause for complaint is ‘Violet Hill’ a revisiting of Lennon via Weller and Oasis that would’ve been way more interesting had the band avoided the orthodox dadrock route. It is, however, redeemed by the hymnal ‘Death And All His Friends/The Escapist’, a segue so obviously tailored for set-closing duties you can almost see the credits roll up the screen.

Viva La Vida… is probably best described as a concept album without an explicit concept. It functions like a rooftop Zen garden plonked in the metropolis, the ballad of Ballard had the old closet moralist plumped for utopian rather than dystopian.

It’s not exactly rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it.

Key track: ‘London Cemetaries’

Rating: 8 / 10
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