IGN JUNE 19, 2008 - by Chad Grischow


So, is it still fey to like Coldplay?

English quartet that started as a jangly indie band has grown increasingly more reliant on fluffy orchestral arrangements to deliver their dramatic brand of rock with each passing release. Those colorful iTunes commercials, blaring the title track of their latest, would lead you to believe that they have fully embraced overstuffed, string-laced dream pop. Thankfully, that could not be further from the truth. Rather than continuing the trend, Chris Martin and crew have taken two steps back and one to the left for what sounds like a reboot of Coldplay's sound.

As evidenced by the lavish production on Viva La Vida, they have not given up on their orchestral pop sound completely. Rather, they seem to have taken the fragile acoustic sounds of Parachutes, the edgier side of A Rush Of Blood To The Head, and the silky sounds of X&Y and cobbled together the best bits of each to expand upon for a more worldly direction for the band. The album tears open with a dazzlingly beautiful two-and-a-half-minute instrumental piece, Life In Technicolor. It seemed for a while as though the albums were sounding less like a band, and more like 'The Chris Martin Project', as the production pushed his voice front and center in the middle of swelling orchestra, with the band somewhere in the background. The restless instrumental is a nice reminder that they know how to rock.

The vocals are perfect this time around, as Martin uses his falsetto sparingly and Brian Eno's smart production places him in the middle of the band, rather than well out in front of it. Martin's resilient lyrics, "Just because I'm losing / Doesn't mean I'm lost", come in the midst of a swollen church organ, clap-beat, and tumbling bongos on Lost! The jaw-dropping sound is unlike anything the band has tried before, and eventually delivers some gritty guitar work missing from the last album and one of their finest hooks. The songwriting also feels much improved, with less direct lyrics, but it does not get any better than the heartbreaking Violet Hill; ebbing and flowing between light piano piece and angry, growling rocker. Martin sings of a rough and tumble winter season in the verses, "Was a long and dark December / When the banks became cathedrals / And the fog became God / Priests clutched onto bibles / Hallowed out to hide their rifles", and hints of love lost in the soaring hook, "If you love me / Won't you let me know"

Though it starts like just another Coldplay piano-ballad, Cemeteries Of London really kicks up some dust when it rolls into a tension-filled tumbler of riffs, screeching strings, and cymbal crashes. Martin starts off quietly warning, "Those that are dead are not dead / They're just living in my head", over a sparse piano before the song's rock eruption, when he taunts, "You thought you might be a ghost / You didn't get to heaven, but you made it close". The album's other 'rock in piano ballad wrapping' is Death And All His Friends, which opens with perhaps the best melody the band has ever crafted with just Martin and a chilled piano in what sounds like a love song. The track quickly takes a turn toward activism, by erupting into a thumping, passionate plea for peace, "No I don't wanna battle from beginning to end / I don't wanna recycle, recycle revenge / I don't wanna follow death and all of his friends", which would make John Lennon proud.

If you have a deep hatred for all things Coldplay, Viva La Vida is the song you will most likely try to hate the most, and fail. It is their one and only foray into unabashed orchestral pop, but the punchy strut of the strings and fantastic marching vocals make it far too charming and lively to dislike, and even harder not to love. The only real misstep comes on the awkwardly combined Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love. While it marries their love for swirling angst and twirling soft piano tunes, it is not quite the seven minutes in heaven the band intends it to be. Lovers In Japan is a vibrant piano-led rocker, but Reign Of Love is an old-fashioned, flaccid piano ballad that goes nowhere. Thank God for iTunes' track-splitting ability. The band tacks on a few instrumentals on the end of other tracks, like with Yes and Death And All His Friends, but they are worth hearing and fit more naturally with their counterpart.

The Brazilian flair to the beat of guitar-fuelled beauty 42 is not the only instance of a more world-traveled sound. Middle Eastern strings flutter over a midtempo beat on Yes, as Martin menacingly plods through the nearly growled vocals. The result is a bit off- putting; welcome change from the glazed-over feel of the last album. The far-east folk-flavored wavy strings behind a jittery bass line on Strawberry Swing blends spectacularly with Martin's calming, "It's such a perfect day", refrain. When the jangling acoustic guitar drifts in near the conclusion, it is the cherry on top of a killer tune.

Viva La Vida is a signal to fans that started to lose their faith that they really do know what they are doing. They had gone from indie darlings to stadium rock geniuses to an emasculating punch-line of The 40-Year-Old Virgin in just three albums. On their fourth, they triumphantly return as rock royalty.