Happy 10th Anniversary to Coldplay’s fourth studio album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, originally released June 12, 2008.
Coldplay’s rise from promising new outing to conquerors of the world stage culminated in the 2005 release X&Y. Having accomplished the dream of being the world’s biggest band, the foursome regrouped for their next album looking to push what it meant to be Coldplay and what new styles and sounds they could explore. The result was Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, released a decade ago today.
Following the U2 guidebook (and that’s a complimentary comparison), Coldplay recruited atmospheric maestro Brian Eno to helm this new outing and help their music transcend the stadium rock that had become their hallmark. The result is a warmer, more outward-looking venture that feels filmic and expansive.
Songs like album opener “Life in Technicolor” demonstrate this new approach. As a purely instrumental track, “Life in Technicolor” is a slow build of sequencing and electronics embracing world music instrumentation and rhythms before hitting with those classic Coldplay chord progressions that lift spirits and shift moods. It has the band looking forward, reaching for something new without losing their sense of identity.
Atmospherics are on display on tracks like the folksy jangle of “Cemeteries of London” and the highlife and tribal beat inspired “Strawberry Swing,” which widens Coldplay’s musical language as they step into new influences and styles.
Lyrically, singer Chris Martin is increasingly looking externally, concerned less and less with his own personal life. His words are more universal, the subject matter more collective in theme as he delves into life, love, struggles on both large and small scales, and death.
Vocally, he also explores the range of his voice. With one of the most identifiable voices in modern rock, Martin’s moves away from his natural instinct to sing in his higher register and channels the depth of his range in songs like the bluesy rock of “Yes” and album closer “Death and All His Friends.”
The rhythmic pounding of “Lost!” under a whirling church organ lets Martin’s lament and optimism mix beautifully in a song that provides a way through the darkness into a glorious light that permeates the latter part of the song.
Elsewhere on songs like the two-part “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love,” there’s buoyancy in the tracks that elevates the listener. Using a honky-tonk inspired tack piano sound as the melodic hook, the song encompasses many sounds from the band’s (and Eno’s) bag of tricks including echo laden guitars, expansive droning beds and chug-a-long drum groove before seguing into the spatial, echoing lament of piano and vocal in the “Reign” section of the track.
Of course, the smash of the album was the epic “Viva La Vida” with its jagging string stabs and rallying bass drum beat and church bell accents. With a lyrical telling of a fallen ruler, “Viva” was the track that put Coldplay into a new world. Backing up against the made-for-stadiums “Violet Hill,” the double dose offering cements all the elements of Coldplay that long-term fans could latch on to, whilst also offering something new to attract a fresh legion of fans.
This is also true on “42” a song that is amongst the finest Coldplay has delivered to date. With the classic recipe of moody piano and Martin’s floating vocals, the song begins as a brooding reflection on life, death and the afterlife as Martin sings, “Time is so short and I’m sure / There must be something more.” With a little musical nod to Lennon’s “Imagine” in a short piano run between verses, “42” draws influence from The Beatles in its three-part structure that switches between piano led ballad to rocking frenetic whirring in the mid-section, before resolving to straight ahead pop as Martin closes the lyrical loop singing, “you didn’t get to heaven / but you made it close.”
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends is arguably the perfect Coldplay album. It’s ambitious but not overblown. It stretches into a new identity without losing sight of the band’s history. It is Coldplay in evolution. Delivering a wider, broader sound and doing so in a tight, concise 10-track offering delivered in a brief 45 minutes. A decade after its release it still holds the same allure, mystery and appeal as it did upon its arrival and it will go down in history as Coldplay’s strongest album, and one of music’s strongest efforts released this side of the turn of the century.