Coldplay comeback mixes ballads, pretense
Coldplay has its work cut out in a new CD, released this week in Britain, to be released in North America June 17.
The British band, which is to play Scotiabank Place on Oct. 20, aims to revitalize its music, described as “very heavy soft rock,” redeem an uncool image, save the world and maybe rescue EMI Group Ltd.
“This album was fuelled by a desire to move from black and white to colour,” singer Chris Martin said in an e-mail. “We decided to let our garden grow a little more unkempt. The bloodhound was let off the leash.”
Martin’s mixing of metaphors is the most reckless thing about the wordily titled Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The Long Live Life slogan is ripped off from a painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Coldplay is getting culture or growing pretentious, depending on how you look at it.
Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 picture of revolutionary fervour, Liberty Leading the People, is splashed across the cover. At the helm is Brian Eno, a producer known for pushing musicians outside their usual territory. This most conservative band shies away from a radical overhaul similar to former EMI act Radiohead.
This might be music to the ears of Guy Hands, whose private-equity company Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd. now owns EMI. Viva la Vida wears the weight of expectation lightly. It’s crafted and mainstream. It tries hard to please, maybe too hard.
The CD is inoffensive and nowhere as interesting as Radiohead’s In Rainbows, where that group toyed with experimentation and releasing music online. Coldplay’s rebellion means pushing the boundaries gently and releasing the CD on Thursday rather than at the start of the week.
There are a few “challenging” pieces segued together such as Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love and a “hidden track” mid-album known as “Chinese Sleep Chant, which offers a bit of Eno’s ambient sound. Martin drops his voice from falsetto and ditches verse-chorusverse songs — so much for innovation.
As the opening Life in Technicolor fades in, it’s clear that Coldplay isn’t turning into Radiohead as much as becoming more like U2, with the ringing guitars recalling the Irish group’s Where the Streets Have No Name.
The powerful Yes has Martin crooning “God, only God knows I’m trying my best,” which he clearly is. Viva la Vida is the result of a lot of perspiration, if rather less inspiration. He adds, “I’m so tired of this loneliness.”
Martin, 31, who is married to actress Gwyneth Paltrow, imagines himself as a fallen king on the title track: “Now in the morning I sweep alone/ Sweep the streets I used to own.” On Death and All His Friends — there are many references to mortality — Martin restates the constant Coldplay theme: “Come over/ Just be patient/ And don’t worry.”
Don’t worry, because while there’s nothing quite as instant as the Grammywinning Clocks or Yellow, there’s always another tune ahead to compensate. 42 starts with middling keyboards and the quiet thought “Those who are dead / Are not dead / They’re just living in my head” before testing the sound levels for the world tour: “You might be a ghost/ You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close.” Fortunately, the CD’s 46 minutes mostly avoid the temptation of stadium-rock bombast.
Violet Hill winds down to a sleepy piano. The quiet-loud-quiet trick is one Coldplay perfected with Amsterdam in 2002.
It’s worth recalling that shares in EMI Group Plc, as it then was, dropped 16 per cent in one day in 2005 when it warned about profit levels and said that Coldplay’s last CD, X&Y, was delayed. That record went on to top the charts and sell about 10 million copies after it came out four months later.
Viva la Vida isn’t the “artistic leap” that EMI is trumpeting, though it probably will give a shot in the arm to the record company and entertain millions. In our troubled economic times, that will have to be enough, though it’s not sufficient for a strong rating.