On Viva La Vida

Coldplay’s fourth studio album, Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends, came out on Tuesday.

It was thanks to either Mojo or Q that I discovered Coldplay. Probably through a concert review, and whatever was said was intriguing enough that I imported The Blue Room from the UK.

So, after Parachutes and “Yellow,” when Coldplay suddenly became big, I felt like the world had discovered a band that, well, belonged to me.

Then came A Rush of Blood to the Head, which was massive and anthemic, and X&Y, which was simultaneously brilliant and mundane. (I love X&Y, but it drags horribly in the middle.)

So, Tuesday. I picked up Viva La Vida, after downloading “Violet Hill” from Coldplay’s website about a month ago and hearing the title track on the radio on Saturday.

And I’ve listened to it. I’ve listened to it maybe a dozen times. (Headphones at work make the day pass.)

It’s a curious, confusing album.

I think that’s the point.

There’s nothing really anthemic, here. There are moments of anthemic brilliance, but there’s nothing that compares to “Yellow,” “The Scientist,” “Amsterdam,” or “Fix You,” except possibly “Viva La Vida,” a song which sounds completely out of place.

What I mean by “moments of anthemic brilliance” is that there are parts of songs that have an anthemic feel. The song goes right up to the edge… and it pulls back from the brink, then spins off in a different direction. Or ends completely. Viva La Vida is more a collection of song fragments strung together than an album of finished songs. The early tracks — “Cemetaries of London” and “Lost!” — have more of a traditional song structure than later songs. But then “42” begins the albums tendency toward something like Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” — a song that’s made up of pieces with different textures and different narrative focuses. It’s an interesting artistic conceit, but it can make for some very difficult listening.

What I find interesting is the way motifs are repeated throughout the album. Musical phrases recur from the beginning of the album to the end, in particular elements of the opening instrumental track, almost as if the track is saying, “This is the backbone of the album, and we’re going to return to this time and again, so this one time you get to hear this cleanly.” And given that the production of the album sounds like a Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound, that’s probably a good idea.

Viva La Vida, then, is a sonic puzzle. The pieces are laid out on the board, and the listener has to put them together. On the downside, there’s no song that I can point to and say, “That connects with me emotionally,” though the fragment “Reign of Love” perhaps comes the closest. Parts of the album, like “Chinese Sleep Chant,” are inexplicable, yet strangely sonically compelling.

I don’t know who this album is for, really. People who are already Coldplay fans — like myself — will buy it. But there’s nothing here made for radio play, except the title track.

It’s not a moody as Parachutes. It’s not as anthemic as A Rush of Blood. It’s not as tailor-made as X&Y. It is, I suppose, exactly as Slate described it, Coldplay’s “We don’t give a fuck album.” There aren’t any lyrics that really stay with me. But I find myself humming strange snatches at times.

It’s growing on me, Viva La Vida. I’m confused by it, but I like it more and more.

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