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Coldplay: Let’s Face It–It’s Not THAT Bad

Onetime critical darlings (remember 2003?) Coldplay released their new album this week. With the highly lengthy title Viva la Vida – something something who cares (okay, so that’s not entirely accurate… let’s just call it Viva la Vida, because that’s all people will call it anyway) they’ve finally fit in the missing piece from their U2 emulation to actually include Brian Eno in the production. But was he really missing?

Coldplay’s earlier efforts evoked U2 in a way that seems almost chilling. At the time–and, truth be told, even today–I believed it was a stab at pure capitalism. By taking the best bits of early U2 and early Radiohead, Coldplay’s X&Y was steeped in the desire to be the biggest Brit band ever. Except, of course, for U2 and Radiohead. However, the new album seems to be moving in a different direction. Not necessarily toward individuality, because I don’t think the band will ever move away from Adam Clayton-esque basslines and Bono-esque vocal melodies and Radiohead-ian guitar chord progressions. No, I think the direction they are moving toward is relevence. This is an album that seems to realize (and, according to Chris Martin’s Rolling Stone interview, a band that realizes) they don’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. By adding Brian Eno to the mix I’m afraid they fail in that respect.

I’m going to go on the position that Eno has done as much to homogenize their sound on this album as he did to push their horizons. Yes, the band incorporated Latin and African rhythms. Yes, there are lush soundscapes and changed up vocal registers. But too much of the album’s first half is taken up by the same plodding numbers that could be filler on any late-era U2 album. Only when they venture into more straight-ahead rock songs do Coldplay really seem to be an actual, real-live band. I predict right now that after “Vida la Vida” and “Violet Hill”, the singles will be “Lost” and perhaps “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love”. If they choose to release that many singles. Which I think might be a bad idea.

This is not to say that I dislike the album, quite the contrary. It’s actually the first Coldplay album I’ve come across that I could listen to more than a few times in a row. I think that they have a real talent for finding pleasing melodies and chord progressions. From a technical standpoint, the band just works. When they get a good rhythmic groove it’s hard to not move to it.

And all the other, mainstream reviews of the album I’ve read seem to forget that hey, sometimes music isn’t about the lyrics. I’m not going to say the Chris Martin is the next Bono. Hell, half the time, Bono isn’t the next Bono. I’m saying that Coldplay has a knack for combining its influences into something that is naturally pleasing. They are not as homogenous as, say, Nickelback. They are not the downfall of the industry, and they’re definitly not–as they were famously dubbed by the New York Times–insufferable. Chris Martin may not be the most eloquent, to-the-point political writer, but you know what? That’s not really what the band is about. They’re not U2, they’re not Rage Against the Machine, they’re not The Clash.

And that’s why I think people are so pissed off at them, because they’re not who they seem like they’re trying to be. People feel duped. That the band they think should be conforming to a preconceived notion of a politically-charged British band that is simultaneously musical/lyrical/artistic genius, are, in fact, not either of those things.

Are Coldplay the best band on the planet? Hardly. Is Viva la Vida the best album of the year? Hardly. Is it the best they’re capable of? Pretty doubtful. But U2’s first collaboration with Eno was The Unforgettable Fire… and then The Joshua Tree. I think that if Coldplay stays with Eno, the next album might be where Coldplay finally make the world at large say “You know, maybe these guys are really going somewhere.”

Final/side note: the last half of the album is vastly superior to the first. Were Viva la Vida released as an EP, I think it might work better. What is it about bands these days? Is it that hard to fill up an album? In the age of digital singles, do people care about getting a full album? I know I do…

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