The new Coldplay album, Viva la Vida, was finally released in Canada on Monday. It could be heard on myspace before that, but I wanted to reserve comment until I'd heard it on something other than my computer speakers.
I find it an enjoyable album to listen to. It is hard to say whether it will "stay in the CD player" (an outdated metaphor, to be sure) for a year straight and become one of the greatest rock albums of all time, like Rush of Blood to the Head did a few years back, but it is good.
You'll read mixed reviews about this one. Some are just happy it isn't X&Y. I don't know. I liked X&Y. It was never going to be as good as its predecessor, and I rather liked the way it went all out and epic. "Fix You" is timeless, and the last half of the album is as good as any.
But Viva la Vida isn't X&Y, and I suppose that is a good thing. It has been well noted already that it has moments of U2 and moments of Radiohead. A few have called them a Radiohead clone. I think it is fairer to say that they are Radiohead if they'd stuck with The Bends and played more piano, or U2 if the Edge would have stopped playing with his gadgets.
Apparently, in a new Rolling Stone magazine article, Chris Martin says, "Sometimes I feel like they (Radiohead) cleared a path with a machete, and we came afterward and put up a strip mall. I would still give my left ball to write anything as good as (beloved Radiohead album) OK Computer."
Thing is, when people compare them to U2 or Radiohead in this way, they are usually trying to put Coldplay down. I'm not. I'm quite happy to have all three. Radiohead is easily the most creative band of our time. If there ever could be another Beatles it would be them. They have pushed music like no one else. There are bound to be some people that come along after them and sound sort of similar at points (try the song "42" on Viva la Vida for instance). But I think this is a good thing. Same with U2. How many U2 wannabes are out there? How many are good? Few, if any. (Let's not even talk about pop-"worship" music now). But Coldplay is good. They fall within (or between) genres, and yet transcend being a knock-off. You can't be a knock-off when you are genuine, and that's one thing I like about Coldplay. They really seem genuine to me.
And don't get me wrong: There is nothing I dislike more than trite lyrics, predictably boring tunes, thinly-disguised plagiarism, and mass-produced sound. (Again, please don't get me started on "worship" music).
I've read a few other comments about the new album, good and bad, including a review from someone who wanted to hate it but still liked it. Another who was surprised to like the album somewhat said "Coldplay is ok music for people who like bad music." While I know what the person means, that seems like a comment written by someone trying to feel high on himself and his musical tastes. I think it more accurate to say that Coldplay is popular music for people who like good music.
All this serves to remind me that it is tough to review music. Even moreso than film. You listen to music while you drive your car with the windows down, sulk in the rain after a tough week, hang out with friends, gear up for a difficult meeting, celebrate a victory, or enjoy your first dance with your baby in your arms. (Incidentally, Coldplay has walked me through all of the above.) The experiences are so varied, and so incredibly subjective. You can take it or leave it, love it or hate it, and sometimes it will have more to do with where you are at and how you take it. Frankly, I admire musicians who are willing to put themselves out there like that. Good for them. Good for us. I am so glad to have music to listen to that I feel like comes from somewhere, and hits me somewhere, and helps me "live the life". Maybe that sounds trite. But its true. Maybe I can keep it fresh by saying it in French: Viva la vida.
And at the end of the day, that's how I feel about Coldplay. Perhaps it is because their last three albums have been the soundtrack to raising my two sons and going to seminary. Perhaps it is because it is just really good music. Perhaps it is because the album cover reminds me of Les Miserables. Any way you slice it, they've got me, and Viva la Vida has not disappointed. I had pretty high hopes too. It is wonderful when a band lives up, and yet manages to keep it real.