The Telegraph MAY 1, 2008 - by Neil McCormick


After rumours of splits and strange musical experiments, Coldplay have ended their silence with a new album, produced by Brian Eno.

After an absence of two years, during which their record company EMI has changed hands and the future of the mainstream commercial music business has been cast into doubt, the biggest-selling rock band of the twenty-first century have returned to the fray.

Coldplay came in from the cold this week with a free digital download single, Violet Hill. Amid rumours that the group had forsaken populism for high-minded artistic experimentation, the wobbly synths that introduce the song may have caused fans (and EMI executives) a moment of anxiety.

But when Chris Martin starts singing, his stately piano rings out and the band pile in, it is business as usual. This is exactly the kind of song that has made them the defining group of our times, a gloriously catchy piece of epic melancholia.

There is almost a '70s pop groove to the song, albeit crossed with a darker rock sensibility. It could be The Feeling with more feeling, or Wings taking flight into the lyrical ether.

There has always been something McCartney-esque about Martin's melodies and the band's harmonic style.

But there is something more, too. He conjures up Macca's old bandmate John Lennon with the line, "I don't want to be a soldier", but adds his own poetic twist: "Who the captain of some sinking ship would stow / down below / If you love me, why'd'you let me go?"

The song is the lament of a fearful foot-soldier, remembering a moment's affection in a snow-covered place called Violet Hill. Like Lennon, Martin strives to get to the raw, emotional core of a song.

With its intimations of mortality, this is not a silly love song, it's a rumination on the futility and hypocrisy of religious conflict, wrapped up in a tune you can imagine vast crowds singing along to.

This is what their critics (and there have been many) dislike about Coldplay: their sincerity, populism and lack of irony. It annoys the same people who have an intense antipathy to U2. But Coldplay are unashamed fans of the Irish supergroup.

Martin once said: "Maybe it's because we were raised on reading U2 books, but there is no shame in joining the mainstream, of wanting the biggest possible platform for your views."

Sixteen million sales of 2002's A Rush Of Blood To The Head and ten million of 2005's X&Y (the biggest selling albums worldwide in their respective years) have certainly given them the platform they desired (even their 2000 debut, Parachutes, has clocked up more than four million).

The New York Times famously described Coldplay as "the most insufferable band of the decade", but the public apparently disagreed. Martin went from being a curly-haired geek to an international sex symbol, married to movie star Gwyneth Paltrow, with a brace of eccentrically-named children (Apple and Moses).

He appeared as a spokesman for the Fairtrade campaign, among other charitable concerns.

But when the group appeared at the 2006 Brit Awards to accept the gong for best album, Martin suggested that success had become a burden. "People are fed up with us and so are we," he said. "You won't see us at one of these for many, many years."

Rumours that the band were breaking up were quickly dismissed when Coldplay bought a mansion to convert into rehearsal and recording space in the desirable north London suburb of Hampstead. There did seem to be some truth to the notion that they were embarking on a period of experimentation, however.

"For a long time, people felt like we were a band in black and white, and now we feel like we can do whatever we like and try all kinds of new things," said Martin.

Leading US hip-hop producer Timbaland (most recently at the helm of Madonna's album) revealed that he was in discussions to produce Coldplay, tapping into Martin's love of urban music (he has written for Jamelia and collaborated with Jay Z and Kanye West).

It might have been intriguing, but it would have done little for the nerves of Guy Hands and his EMI investors, who must be hoping that another blockbuster from their most bankable stars will get EMI out of the hole.

In the event, it was to Brian Eno that Coldplay turned. Eno is renowned for his experimental work - solo, and with Roxy Music, David Bowie and Talking Heads - but he has also produced some of U2's most successful albums, including The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.

It would appear that it is this side of Eno that Coldplay tapped into. Martin said the group are still "obsessed with making songs that can be sung to the rafters".

The album's title, Viva La Vida, has unfortunate connotations of Ricky Martin. In fact the phrase, which means "Long live life", was spotted by Martin on a Frida Kahlo painting. "I loved the boldness of it," he has said.

In 2007, they road-tested material on a short South American tour. On a subsequent trip to Barcelona, they did some location recording in Catalan churches.

A post on the band's website claimed: "The sights, sounds and flavours of Latin America and Spain have definitely infused into this album." Having heard it myself, all I can say is that it must have infused so deeply you can't even taste it anymore.

Members of the music press were invited to playbacks this week, albeit only after agreeing to forgo detailed discussion of the content prior to its release on June 16. What I can say is that themes of death and resurrection are strongly present, apparently confirming a long-held suspicion that, like their heroes U2, there is a Christian element to Coldplay.

With a production that the band describe as "dense" with "melodies and colours packed into a relatively short space", Eno loads on the atmospherics and introduces plenty of rhythmic and sonic twists, but Martin's innate pop sensibility shines through.

If anything, the new Coldplay are brighter and more uplifting than ever. These are songs full of the kind of anthemic touches that will make people want to hold their mobile phones in the air.

If you liked Coldplay before, chances are you will like them still. If you couldn't stand them, block your ears now. They are going to be hard to escape.