Posted 6/27/2008 by Will Bryan in Labels: , , , , ,

I don’t usually like to write about music. I feel that it is comparable to dancing about love. It can be done, but only the skilled and experienced should attempt it. But after listening through the new Viva la Vida album from Coldplay, I was compelled to attempt to translate my feelings a little bit (and you can say what you want about my sexual orientation, but I do like Coldplay).

The context of this review is sticky because this album strikes you at obtuse angles, and thus you feel like you must be the only person to have heard this and you want to tell everyone. And then you realize that everyone else already knows. So, OK. I know that Coldplay was introduced by the artistic philistines over at the NBC morning show on Friday at Rockefeller Center, but I am going to try to ignore that.

My other caveat is that music and its consequential reviews are always conversations between close friends. It can be difficult to understand if you don’t know where the participants have been. I don’t pretend to know all the ways that this music relates to everything else outside of my own limited listening.

So what is this Viva La Vida album all about? There are moments that seem like musical brilliance then you suddenly realize that you can’t understand what Chris Martin is saying. Then the key and tempo switches and the song ends and a new song begins on the same track. At its clearest moments, this album fundamentally describes a lack of clarity, while the unclear moments become artistic metaphors for the same lyrical message. It’s like writing about how you have nothing to write about. And it’s brilliant.

To put this album in an historical perspective, I believe that it achieves and is commercially successful in ways that U2 always attempted to be in the 1990’s. Both groups went through periods where their music exemplified the art of process, irony and inaccessible metaphor. Yet U2’s period didn’t go so well for their fans. The group spent so much time mocking the rock star lifestyle and hiding their beating pulses over processed sound that people recoiled.

Somehow, I think that Coldplay does similar musical things in this album (they did work with U2 producer Brian Eno), but the circumstances are a little bit different and they pull it off. Firstly, Coldplay’s new sound does not follow a smash-hit album (X&Y) in the same way that U2’s did (The Joshua Tree). Secondly, I think that we are in a place where we appreciate a little musical self-doubt here or there, and I think that this is the biggest difference between the present Chris Martin and the Bono of the 90’s. Bono always came off as an arrogant prick even when he tried saying that he had no idea who he really was, while Chris Martin continues to sound like that little small voice inside your head.

Overall, I come away from this album with a renewed confidence to pass judgment on things I disagree with (exemplified in “Viva la Vida” and “Violet Hill”), day dream about perfect days (“Strawberry Swing”), and question everything while still maintaining some sort of belief in…myself, others, God? (“Lost?”).

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