Thursday, June 26, 2008

Viva la Coldplay!

Coldplay have long had to withstand inevitable comparisons to Radiohead. And rightfully so. Chris Martin states that Radiohead and U2 are perhaps two of his biggest influences on his band. That and Ambien, of course. Martin claims to have sleeping problems so he takes sleeping pill Ambien. However, like any great artist, the best ideas come late in the middle of the night/way early in the morning. Inspired, he starts writing down his ideas. If you stay awake on Ambien, though, well, it fucks you up.

I think Chris Martin took a lot of Ambien for his band Coldplay's latest outing Viva La Vida or Death and All of His Friends as it is their most experimental record. Although musically different, Coldplay manages to stay true to its roots and create the most unColdplay/most Coldplay album to date. Here's a track-by-track reaction response.

"Life in Technicolor"--So begins the electronic evolution of Coldplay. I thought they started going down this path on X&Y but it becomes more clear how Radiohead's Kid A and U2's Achtung Baby inspired the band. The song becomes with an electronic buzz that soon kicks up speed with some Eastern sitar. The song is solely instrumental and a great thesis statement for the album. Great background music. It could also be a really kickass ringtone.

"Cemeteries of London"--The tone changes on this one. It starts off a bit somber with a walking piano melody. Then the desperado-like guitar comes in below Chris Martin's singing "la la la." For a song about cemeteries, it makes you feel pretty happy.

"Lost!"--Excellent use of church organs and bass drums make you want to stand up and sing, "I'm not lost!" The song speaks of optimism in dark times with some political undertones, especially in the lyrics: "And you'll be lost! / Every river that you tried to cross / Every gun you ever held went off / Oh and I'm just waiting 'til the firing's stopped / Oh and I'm just waiting 'til the shine wears off."

"42"--The song starts off with old Coldplay: Martin sings somberly above a haunting piano melody. As Martin sings about death and ghosts, the slow building background buzz creates an eerie presence, as if spirits do wander. Then the song gets deadly as it turns into a progressive rock jam with piercing lead guitar hooks. All the sudden, it turns into another type of song--a happy sing along about not getting to heaven but "you made it close."

"Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love"--Here, Coldplay starts really mixing it up as they combine two songs in one, much like a concept album. The rollicking piano of "Lovers in Japan" makes me picture a montage of people running towards each other. It makes sense as the opening lyrics are "Lovers, keep on the road you're on / Runners until the race is run." The drums and piano follow in sync to keep up a lovely ambling pace. Then, Coldplay returns to balladry on "Reign" as the liquid piano brings you into a dream state. But his lyrics invoke a sense of nightmare as he sings, "I'm a prisoner in the reign of love." Prison evokes negativity and lack of control, which makes sense when one is in love, but wouldn't this be a good thing? Maybe being married to Gwyneth isn't all its cracked up to be.

"Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant"--Definitely the most experimental song on this album. The song starts with much more evidential Indian and Asian influence found in the guitar whams. Martin then does something drastically different: no more falsetto, it's baritone time! And I fuckin' dig it. Who knew Martin could sing sexy? The Indian tempo gives the song a sense of urgency and danger as Martin sings of his impending doom by the almighty fate aka God. "Chinese Sleep Chant" is another great background song for a movie montage, though, or even a movie trailer. It's a pretty epic song with swirling guitars and lots of distortion. It definitely doesn't make me sleep.

"Viva La Vida"--We've all heard this song. You've all seen the Apple commercial. This song has dominated the Hot 100 list. It's the first Coldplay song that doesn't focus on instruments but solely sounds and atmosphere. The violins here are the melody, the bass drum is the rhythm, and then it feels like an explosion of not only sound but colors, too. Coldplay have done what N.E.R.D. struggle to die: create synthesia. Looking at the lyrics, I noticed that Martin has a great knack for using alliteration, assonance, and consonance. With its Victorian lyrics, Martin almost channels Edgar Allen Poe, without all the depressing bullshit. This song took a while to grow on me, but now I can't get enough of it. I hear it and just want to start pumping my hand in the air. Damn, I wish I was as cool as Chris Martin.

"Violet Hill"--The album's first single and most aggressive cut. Chris Martin, for once, sounds angry! Who knew he even had this emotion? This song is interesting in a different way--it was offered as a free single to the fans. It's also going to be the first Coldplay song to be available on Guitar Hero and Rock Band. In a way, Coldplay, like U2, are embracing the new business model: product and technology as art. It's a merging of the creative with the business. It's not selling out, it's giving in and improving.

"Strawberry Swing"--This song is just a really happy 60s psychedelic jingle. It's a simple song with no choruses really. It just puts me in a good mood. I don't know what else to say.

"Death and All of His Friends/The Escapist"--Once again, another lovely little ditty with Martin singing lovely little lyrics about love and loss (see? I can alliterate, too.) Then, the song gets fucking awesome with the rock-out-with-your-cock-out piano and guitar bash-a-thon. The drum kicks in to create an indelible beat. I wish this part of the song was longer and they busted out into a great guitar winded solo. "No, I don't want to battle from beginning to end / I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge / I don't wanna follow Death and all of his friends." Martin invokes images of circularity, which is appropriate as the song concludes with the instrumental that the album began with.

"Lost?"--The piano version of "Lost!" A great reinterpretation by the same band.

Overall, I fucking dig this album. It's really easy listening and shows new chops by a band that I've come to grow and love. More and more, I see a distinct difference between Coldplay and Radiohead. Everyone worships Radiohead but I don't think it's fair to have Coldplay compared to them because both bands have their strengths and weaknesses (yes, even Radiohead has some weaknesses.) More so, Coldplay is unique in the sense of selling cool, selling art, selling hip. From free singles to Apple commercials to free concerts to online streaming to having their whole album previewed on KROQ without commercial interruption, they know how to distribute art to the mainstream without selling out, although this is debatable. In the end, I may rail on people who choose to make music and movies for money, but you know what? Sometimes, it's just fucking good, it's fucking good. This album encompasses many themes of contradictory states: good and evil, life and death, right and wrong. It makes sense that it should then manifest business and creative, money and art.

Viva la Coldplay!

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