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Coldplay: Viva La Vida

Jude Adam


Last week a colleague got into the lift at work, listening to an iPod that was audible to the rest of us. As another co-worker jumped in the first guy's shuffle randomly selected 'The Scientist' by Coldplay. When he told me the story it was to question why his knee-jerk reaction had been that of embarrassment. He blushed, looked down and fumbled for something 'a bit more cool'.

Dubbed 'indie bed-wetters' in the NME, Coldplay are somehow a band that it has always been hip to sneer at. But despite a dislike of Chris Martin's campaigning, or a claim to find them 'dull' and 'insipid', most discerning music fans will own at least one Coldplay album.

I like them. My colleague likes them. So why are we embarrassed to admit it, and will their much-heralded 'new direction' make the slightest bit of difference?

Treating their first three albums as a now-completed trilogy, the band are said to have thrown out the rule-book, found innovative producers (Brian Eno and Arcade Fire's Markus Dravs), and started again. So far so exactly the same as X&Y.

Except that this time, the opening track doesn't sound like U2. In fact, the opening track doesn't sound like Coldplay. The opening track is an instrumental. Mixing electronic swirls with piano, programmed drums and hand-claps, it builds and builds until… I can't wait to hear it live.

Named 'Life In Technicolor', it's a tone setter, morphing into the second track, 'Cemeteries Of London' without missing a beat. It's here that the main feel, musically and lyrically, is set. There's more programming, more loops, more effects and less of the characteristic piano and guitars. Influences range from New Order to John Lennon, from North African rhythms and strings to Abba-esque disco. Tracks merge together, while others schizophrenically change tack on a heartbeat.

Lyrically the greatest sea-change is that sometimes you can't really hear what Chris is saying. In several of the tracks the vocals are mixed down, making them more of a harmonic and rhythmic line within the whole. But when they are clear, they are crystal.

One of the reasons Coldplay resonate is Martin's coverage of the universal fears of loneliness, insecurity and doubt - particularly when pertaining to his faith. 'Cemeteries' kicks off with 'I see God roam in the garden but I don't know what he said, because my heart wasn't open'. This (almost) regret continues throughout. It's the title track that delivers it most clearly. 'I used to rule the world', it starts, while the chorus declares, 'I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing, Roman cavalry choirs are singing, be my mirror, my sword and shield, missionaries in a foreign field, for some reason I can't explain, I know St Peter won't call my name'.

But for all this Viva La Vida isn't sad. For all the experimentation it's not avant-garde. For all the complexity it's still surprisingly simple. So what's changed? Everything and nothing. It's still Coldplay. It's just better.

Jude Adam