Faster Louder JUNE 23, 2008 - by Liam McGinniss


The first two Coldplay albums were filled with big piano and guitar hooks, gentle melodies, and singable choruses, and made them worldwide superstars. Third album X&Y lost a lot of the hooks, but didn't replace them with anything, and so the album lacked the impact of its predecessors. There's bad news and good news with new album, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends. The bad news is the hooks are still missing. The good news is that they've filled the gap with orchestral flourishes, a depth of percussion, and a sense of adventure and risk which was missing from previous releases - and that's not a bad trade-off.

The influence of album producer Brian Eno can be felt from the first tracks. Life In Technicolour is a spacious instrumental which arrives quietly, but bursts into life. Cemeteries In London features some all-male chanting, and nice interplay between the harsh acoustic and echoing electric guitars. And Lost!, with its Fix You style organ play and mixed handclaps percussion, announces that Coldplay are as confident as ever, even when trying out something new. Chris Martin's vocals are impeccable, and his lyrics are as memorable as ever - "You'll be lost, every river that you tried to cross, every gun you ever had went off". There's not as many sing-along choruses here as in previous work, and the songs might not grab at first listen, but there's a depth here which can discovered with multiple plays - there's always something new to find.

42 is haunting and melodic, as it starts softly, but explodes with some more excellent percussion and orchestral flourishes, before coming full circle into a Coldplay pop song. Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love, despite existing as a single track, is two completely different songs. Lovers is old-school Coldplay, all guitar-driven soft rock, while Reign rests Martin's vocals over a gentle yet flourishing piano melody.

Yes is another long one, with a darker beginning, slide guitars and staccato drums, and morphing in its second half into a Snow Patrol-like guitar thrash. Viva La Vida is completely orchestral, and is charming and pleasant, while first single Violet Hill is probably the closest Coldplay come to sounding like themselves. With its singable tag-line and straightforward guitar lines, it could easily have come from A Rush Of Blood To The Head.

Strawberry Swing has a twanging, almost country guitar melody driving it, and once again the percussion really stands out. Death And All His Friends (it takes a special effort to have two title tracks on an album) starts off with just Martin and the piano, before turning a literal take on the title phrase into an upbeat pop song with a dark chorus - "I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge, I don't want to follow Death and all of his friends." It's a stunning closing track, and those with the album set on repeat will enjoy the return of the noise from the beginning of first track Life In Technicolour - the album has come full circle.

There's been a lot of fuss made about the new direction for Coldplay, and the difference between Viva La Vida and their earlier albums is remarkable. Coldplay have always been known, for better or worse, for making "safe" rock songs, with a guaranteed audience. This isn't exactly Kid A, but it's refreshing to see them take a chance with their music. William Champion's drum work, usually just a background feature, is an absolute highlight, and the influence of Brian Eno is clear and prevalent. This new album probably won't convert any of the Coldplay haters (and there are many) but fans, or even those with an open mind, will surely rate this as one of the best albums of the year.