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Published:March 12th, 2009 10:16 EST
Coldplay Extends Their Reign As The Toppermost Pop Band on Viva La Vida!

Coldplay Extends Their Reign As The Toppermost Pop Band on Viva La Vida!

By John G. Kays



All in all you`re just another brick in the wall. -The Wall-Pink Floyd


Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends (Capitol) is a very, very clever, well-crafted, long-playing record. Coldplay employed Brian Eno, as a suggestion from Gwyneth Paltrow, to help them out of the sand trap they were mired in with their 2005 release, X & Y; namely repetitive melodies, lukewarm lyrics, and inordinate "borrowing` from other bands. Brian Eno is a savior here, and acts as the Pied-Piper for Viva La Vida. He brings in his stalwart gimmicks, his rabbit-in-the-hat Oblique Strategies, where oracles on playing cards dictate where a song will go in terms of rhythm, melody, and lyrics. This worked superbly on this record-Viva La Vida is a meticulously woven patchwork quilt, a string of multi-colored mardi-gras beads of every size and shape imaginable, strung together with leery, museum-case precision.


Viva La Viva is a concept record, and as such it`s a good idea to listen to the whole in one sitting. When I say it`s a concept album, you must think of antecedents such as Tommy, Sergeant Pepper, but conspicuously Abbey Road (side two), a majestic model of seamless song fragments that bespeaks the daily life of "Swinging London` in the `60s. Coldplay`s new studio is an old bakery in London that Chris Martin pegs as a beaten-up little place, down a drunken alleyway.  A new voice was found by Coldplay in this bakery with Brian Eno as their spiritual guide, acting as a George Martin surrogate-guru for the lads. Do not ever forget that The Beatles once saved EMI and made them profitable, and now Coldplay has the same task before them in this generation of entertainment!  


The business angle for this new release is of the utmost importance for EMI (Electric and Musical Industries Limited), the struggling label that holds the contract for Coldplay. This is a British institution that retains the intellectual property of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and even Frank Sinatra. EMI was recently purchased by Terra Firma, and it seems as if the new boss, Guy Hands, is better versed in reviving pubs and gas stations, than making a proper go at the music business. Moreover, with the banking industry going south, he has been rubbing some big acts, such as The Stones and Radiohead, the wrong way.


Fortunately, Coldplay has seized control of their own marketing and promotion this go `round, and this certainly has been working for them. Their album is currently number one on the Billboard charts (today is July 12th) and on iTunes also.  So it appears to be exclusively the job of Coldplay to keep the aging giant EMI a float; it is exciting to track the sales of the album as they are reported. In an age when the music business is whistling pass the graveyard new heroes are welcome visitors!


Let`s take a stroll through this British bakery and inspect the enticing Viva tarts displayed in the dessert case! There`s a nice apple tart, Life In Technicolor! Let`s grab a piece of coconut fudge, 42! A coffee dessert (Violet Hill) will lift you up from my patisserie of mixed metaphors (my life is a mixed metaphor). Hey there`s a creme tangerine and over there a montelimat. I hope George Harrison is not frownin` down on me as I raid the cub bards of Savoy Truffle from the White Album. Our satellite photos from NASA`s Messenger show Coldplay creating our Generation Y truffles to save EMI. Let`s study the ingredients of these saving songs from the new Mayan Lords that walk these jungles. The treble clef notes are cascading in swirls on our ears and harkenin` us back to the London bakery! 


Life In Technicolor has a mercurial canticle that rolls through it; it is an instrumental that acts as an overture to the entire project. The bass gradually comes up in counter distinction to the high-frequency range of the round sampled through. The rhythm is peppy and marching (one two, one two), and the sphinx-like guiding hand of Brian Eno pushes the plastic `round on the turntable (think of the hand of God on the Sistine Chapel).


  Cemeteries Of London is a haunting sea chantey with a wall of sound splashing echo and reverb at the end of each measure; a great monsoon wave of noise. Some characters, it seems, are hovering `round the streets of spirit-soaked London searching for lost souls, encountering ghosts and witches on the way, and even getting a few glimpses of God himself. There are ghost towns in the ocean, recalls the chilly mariner legend of The Flying Dutchman. This one has a Pogues bite to it, with a punchy, crunching pace to it, and is the best of the lot. 


Lost has a slow 4/4 rhythm with it and is accented with hand claps at the end of each measure. It was partially recorded in a church and uses sweltering organs and piano that disguise the vocal of Chris Martin, who is Waiting till the shine wears off.  Apparently, this means that you will shrink back down to size; this is idle wordplay that`s letting the air out of his ego. `Tis a seahorse-float shooting through the sky that then tumbles like Phaethon, son of Helios, in his chariot. You might be a big fish in a little pond, but I suppose a prominent flounder can come along and shuck you off in a wink of the eye! The mix of Lost sends you into outer space; as I hear it I think of Alan Shepard pickin` up genesis lunar rocks on a casual moonwalk.  


42 is two songs in one; the first half is reflective and recalls John Lennon`s two-handed piano chording with some witty word play: Those who are dead are not dead they`re just living in my head, a crackerjack sliver of limerick that suggests that the memory of the dead can keep them alive. The second section is faster and brighter with some Lewis Carroll, non-sensical verse about the existence of a ghost that nearly makes his way to the pearly gates. You thought you might be a ghost (repeat), you didn`t get to heaven but you made it close (repeat). The first time I heard this song (June 17th) I was channeling unstintingly back in time to Brian Eno`s 1973 premiere pop album Hear Come The Warm Jets, it was a breath of fresh air.


Lovers In Japan has a Martian sonic drone over a catchy, repeating organ-grinderish melody. These hypnotic spaceship effusions will make the dogs howl through a full-moon witching hour, and Martin`s vocals are slightly tucked in underneath these close encounter` shenanigans, and `tis interesting. The lyrics are muffled, and thus are lacking anything real, or  pithy, or even subliminal for that matter; Chris merely randomly references some such lovers, runners, and soldiers, with no specifics. Is it pro-war or anti-war? Clouds hover o`er our blue skies here, but ambiguity is often the kinder, gentler yellow brick road to follow, and it`s better for sales too!


The B section of Lovers In Japan is about the fans of Coldplay analyzing the band for meaning and direction for their own lives. The poor Mister Martin is placed under a microscope by people all over the world and even by myself, for his rapturous revelations. Instead, all we`re getting is a few parrot beak banterings, some choice chipperings of Chris against a space-rock moon tune, a U2ish blast of high frequency Martian squeal with a ice cream truck ditty in sampled loop. Reign Of Love acts as a pillowy couplet to Japan` and has splashes or miniature flourishes of piano echo with a lullaby melody and lyrics `bout the slavery of love, me thinks.


The first half of the title, Viva La Vida, comes from a painting by Frida Kahlo which is just a still life of cheerful melons. The whole title, (Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends), I have heard, is inspired by Stanley Kubrick`s scathing satire on the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This moniker suggests a kind of yin-yang dialectic, quarried from tipsy pipedreams of the I-Ching, where life and death is in balance. This would, of course, be symbolic for the good and bad vibes contained in the songs on the album. But it does seem that the bad vibes are mostly wimpy, and may be construed as whining or pouting on the part of Coldplay. Nonetheless and oddly enough, this has been a saving grace, an integral part of the band`s M.O. from the get go!


The cover itself is a Eugene Delacroix painting, Liberty Leading the People, executed in 1830, which has been whitewashed with graffiti plopped on the surface. The painting itself is a depiction from the French Revolution showing Lady Liberty leading Parisians on a zealous rampage for freedom. To tie this in with Coldplay, one has to study the lyrics of Viva La Vida; it appears that Coldplay is on the wrong side of the fence? Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver platter;  they are the bad guys, the ruling elite or kings disguised as bic-flickering arena rocker debutantes, if you get my drift. Not that they have really changed, but at least they are cognizant of their politically incorrect quagmires; their social standing of bigwiggedness. And it even looks as if Chris Martin is not going to make it to heaven- I know Saint Peter won`t call my name. Boy they really blew it!


The artwork in the CD booklet is mostly just homegrown doodles of lyrics from Coldplay with a bit of paint slapped on too. The center page has just a few lines of each song. It would have been preferable if they included the complete lyrics in the booklet. Hopefully they weren`t trying to hide anything, but simply were downplaying the importance of the words. The title, cover painting, and lyrics only come together cloudily in my head, but that`s perfectly legal in pop music. Just to be blunt, I will say, the cover doesn`t mean nothing`, that`s what it means. I can just picture Coldplay fans all around the world twistin` and turnin` the CD cover `bout and puttin` it under a magnifying glass just to glean an inner sanctum of pansophy from the cardboard. This is pure ballyhoo, my fair weathered friends, but is exactly the ritual that I practice in the solitude of my condo!  


Yes opens with four bars of exotic Middle Eastern strings, provided by Davide Rossi; this suggested the aura of   # 9 Dream, which is the best song on John Lennon`s Walls And Bridges, released in September of 1974. Chris Martin sings in a lower register here, talking in defiance to loneliness, but certainly under the spell of fleshly temptation. After two verses there`s a refreshing barrage of Jonny Buckland guitars that jump in like falling stars (or red-hot meteor metals) to spice it up a bit. Then after two further verses the violin and cello strings are rippling piquantly again.


 The lyrics to Yes, are encoded with secrets, and address the issue of breaking out of the moldy doldrums that plagued Coldplay after X & Y, whereby jettisoning the old tortoise shell is in order and cooking up an original project can be a nice change of pace. So, up they picked me by the big toe. This is code for the thrashing that they`ve taken from the press. To be more specific, this is a grim reminder of Jon Pareles` scathing article, The Case Against Coldplay that appeared in The New York Times on June 5, 2005, a brutal hack-job on X & Y.


Chinese Sleep Chant, a hidden track, is fully a blitzkrieg of treated guitars overdubbed superbly by Jonny Buckland. This put me in a trance as the Sandman be dappled my eyelids with blissful slumber. Good Night, the last song on The White Album, likewise cured me of insomnia some forty years ago. At this very moment my glassy eyeballs are peering out at you from your flat panel monitor, where you beady-eyed internet geeks are surfing my lines lazily in real time. I`m using a branding iron to burn these letters into this scroll, so watch out!


Viva La Vida, the main single from the album, begins with a gorgeous staccato string quartet provided by Davide Rossi, and tells the tale of fallen kings; these diminished lords are Zen-Masters of arena rock who are whittled down to size, and are now teeming with humility and self-degradation. The narrator hears some type of ineffable vocational calling, I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing, Roman Cavalry choirs are singing, be my mirror my sword and shield. I am envisioning this as a quasi-medieval Sir Lancelot, Knights of the Round Table beckoning, a return to virtue and Christian wholesomeness; furthermore, it`s a boomerang uturn to the Cinderella working-class bubble of street- sweeper magnanimity.


The abdication of power and the loss of the crown results in admission to the gates of heaven with the gift of the keys of Saint Peter. (You may want to give this a close listening, but sometimes it sounds like Saint Peter won`t call my name.`) This song conceals such vagaries as a trip to the confession booth might do, which then lifts the storyteller (Chris Martin) back to his majestic position. After all he has confessed his sins and is ready to resume his throne in the stadium for another rock show. Sexy Sadie, you`ll get yours yet, however big you think you are.  I`ll buy that; catchy little pop song?


Violet Hill has a pungent video single that you can get on iTunes. The boys are dressed in Salvation Army looking gear (or scruffy Sergeant Pepper threads), and are fooling around in a mansion and in some fields. This brings to mind the bleedin` Be-a-tles in an early version of music video, the castles in the air of Strawberry Fields,  with band members rotating rapidly at an upright piano or hacking away on marching band instruments. The lyrics are frothy as usual, but seem to refer to a need for affection in the snowy settings of Violet Hill, a street in St John`s Wood, London. There are a few allusions (or illusions) here to the Crusades, God again, and how the future is carved by fools, when the future`s architectured by a carnival of idiots on show. Is this Coldplay themselves? As confusing as this is, the combination of music, words, and images makes perfect sense in a big picture,  forest for trees (or maybe better yet icebergs for snow) kind of way!


Strawberry Swing is an afternoon delight;` just chugs along idly, a happy-go-lucky nursery rhyme that chimes like a `sicle truck amblin` down the lane in a slowpoke suburb of anywheresville. This is the Yellow of the record and is just the prescribed medicine to hatch another golden egg; `tis charged with feel-good positive ions. Golden lines (would you believe copper penny pennings?) roll off my fingertips like sausage through a meat-grinder!


Death And All His Friends starts out as an innocent, Mary Poppins` morsel of advice to not worry ; just do the Peter Pan thing and fly away o`er rooftops! Two minutes into the piece it takes a high-tempo uturn  that morphs into a Pink Floydish chant about defying gloomy death; the Brian Eno inspired phrase is finally bleated out: I don`t want to cycle a recycled revenge. Okay, he wants things to be cheery, don`t we all!


 The coda, The Escapist repeats the opening melody of the record, a calliope muzak loop, thus coming full circle. This was actually written by John Hopkins, a colleague of Brian Eno. The lyrics were written by Chris Martin, In the end we dream of making our escape; this is the main theme of the album, escaping the stigma of brainless arena rock! I couldn`t help but remember the coda to Abbey Road: And in the end the love you make, is equal to the love you take. I suspect that others are making this connection as well! Mister Bucks?


I caught a snap of Ringo extending the peace sign for his sixty-eighth birthday and was whiffed with a measure of muse to polish off these billows. I listened to all their old records and solidly concluded that Vida shows marked improvement over their three previous releases. Parachutes is really trudging; I speculated that Coldplay didn`t get enough coffee before they entered the studio. Chris Martin`s use of falsetto is not as good as Thorn Yorke`s of Radiohead who warbles like a Martian on a whoopee cushion! And the diadem of Art Rock still rests on the moptops of Radiohead. Coldplay sports the Arty Arena Rock crown! I barb in jest, Coldplay Curmudgeons!  My measuring rods of rock were begot on another day. I must recalibrate for Generation Y!


 I chip away at granite with chisel and hammer, the final inscriptions; Brian Eno`s Another Day On Earth wafts through the flat space! Surfin` for clues as his process unfolds.  By the time I finish this moronic word puzzle the top of my head will be fried, my eyeballs will pop out of their sockets, coffee grinds will be oozing out of the side of my mouth, and the record itself will be lodged in my forehead, protruding out like a swordfish and won`t disengage, even with the jaws of life! I`ve got blisters on my fingers."



Half of what I wrote won`t see the light of day for fear of retribution! *(Two examples: Coldplay sounds more like the Archies in Jettson gear. Or: Much of this is the obligatory tears and flapdoodle [Mark Twain`s words] of Chris Martin. I better leave off on this squawkin` papyrus before I get tarred and feathered and run outta town by Coldplay groupies.) SOP people, please listen to the record a few more times then come back to visit me (reread my review) one more time! Indignities ya utter, pasty brainies, Queen Mab on an agate stone, so why not split my skull one more time, I casually walk o`er the turntable with vinyl between fingers, so as not to smudge the plastic, put the record on the chasse, and hear Tibetan monks chanting between the grooves whilst Coldplay rises skyward on Stratocumulus perlucidus Grammy clouds!


*Thanks to Bertha for turning me on to Coldplay; I had never heard them before May of this year