I find it hard to form an opinion on Viva La Vida, Coldplay‘s fourth album. On the one hand, some of the songs were catchy and it was good enough to listen to; but it somehow felt unsatisfying, forgettable almost. It is certainly a step up from X&Y (their third album), but not as good or memorable as A Rush of Blood to the Head (their second album).
I feel that Coldplay‘s desire to make music that will reach more people: the review from Spin commends Viva La Vida as “an album meant to connect with the masses”. But then again, they gave the album four and a half stars, where as Rolling Stone gave it three and a half: an assessment I’m more inclined to agree with.
And it’s not as if the band is “stagnating” or anything. They have moved in another musical direction (and certainly a positive one from X&Y!), which may be interesting theoretically; but what does that matter when the music doesn’t excite you? I’m almost inclined to compare it to the direction Muse took with Black Holes and Revelations, in that both albums were intended to reach a wider (some may say more main-stream audience); but that would be unfair to Muse in that Black Holes was a pretty good album and unfair to Coldplay in that they did move in a positive direction.
Probably the most catchy song on the album is Violet Hill (which was the first single released), but the song is by no means an excellent song destined to be considered a classic down the track. Its simple chord structure and driving rhythms make it something you’ll get stuck in your head and certainly a song that would be good live; but certainly not a song to make you go “wow”.
Other good songs on the album are 42, which is reminiscent of A Rush of Blood with its soft piano, ostinato chords and simple elegance; moving to a fuller sound and then effectively returning; as well as Yes, which has a quite interesting Middle Eastern sound and works well as a song as a whole (unlike several other songs on this album).
On the other hand, most of the other songs don’t really work for me. Cemetaries of London sounds a bit like something by Eskimo Joe and Lost! makes me think of Arcade Fire (keep in mind, both of those bands bore me to tears). Lovers in Japan sounds like something from a Sony ad but otherwise not terribly exciting; Strawberry Swing and Death and All His Friends don’t do it at all for me: completely forgettable, non-songs.
On the whole, Viva La Vida is not a bad album. If I heard one of its songs on the radio, I wouldn’t change the station. While certainly better than than the tedium of X&Y, it doesn’t quite reach A Rush of Blood to the Head and is certainly not an album that I listen to a lot or would recommend to friends. While the Internet joke “Coldplay? I thought all their fans died years ago!” is a tad unfair, I wasn’t altogether pleased with the album as a whole. Luckily, the few songs I do like salvage the album to a respectable degree and with it, my opinion of Coldplay. 3 Stars.