Listen, But Don’t Revolt

I want to start this weeks blog with a self congratulations: I made it one whole month with a post every week. I’m already beating the odds. Next, I want to say that 1) you all need to seriously feel loved or 2) I need to seriously work on my procrastination problem. I have way too much to actually be doing, but I either felt total love and obligation for you guys, or I just needed an excuse not to study. Right now I find myself too stressed to tell. This month’s album was a request (yes, I take those) so shout out to a kid named Matt from my calc class! (See? Participate and you get a shout out.)

Album: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends                    Artist: Coldplay

viva la vida

So, like I said, this album was a request from a kid in my calc class (Hi Gibby!), and I’m really glad he suggested it.

You see, it’s not that I don’t like Coldplay. In fact I can name quite a few songs that I really like. It’s just that I feel like a lot of Coldplay’s stuff sounds the same. Like if a song by Coldplay comes on Pandora, I can usually tell you who it is before the words even start. So, even though I have a copy of Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends on CD, I hadn’t really listened to it (with the exception of “Viva La Vida,” ‘cause everyone has heard that at some point).

Now, I won’t take back anything I’ve said about Coldplay in that last paragraph. But I will retract the statement with regards to Viva la Vida. While every song on the album still contains that “Coldplay sound” I was talking about, every song is distinctly different; it’s like every single song comes out of a different genre. Part of this may be due to their producer, Brian Eno (who has produced a few of U2’s albums, unsurprisingly); part of this might be their multi-national fan base. Regardless, the songs on  Viva La Vida move from easy piano, to full on orchestra, to distorted guitar, to even a techno sound. I can’t think of a word other than fun to describe the listening experience. It’s an album that makes you want to dance. The variety of sounds found on this album could easily be what makes it a good listen. But it’s not just the sound that makes it different from the rest of Coldplay’s work before VLV‘s release.

This album is sort of cool in that it cycles. I remember Matt telling me this in calculus, and I’m glad he did because I’ll be the first to admit that I missed it on the first few listens. Basically, the way the album starts is the way the album finishes (and if you go on to listen to the Prospekt’s March EP, it starts the way VLV begins if you’re even still following me). I know that sounds simple, but it’s so much cooler when you listen. And it gets even better when you really look at the lyrics, but I’m trying not to get ahead of myself.

The album opens with “Life in Technicolor” which serves as an intro of sorts to the next song on the album, “Cemeteries of London.” If you’ve listened to “Viva La Vida” (the song, for clarification), then I’m sure you can guess the subject matter of this album: revolution, religion, love. The good stuff, right? Well these themes, especially religion, are very apparent in “Cemeteries of London.” Lines like “Through the dark streets they go searching to see God in their own way,” make it kind of hard to miss. The religion theme is pretty major, making it’s way into “Yes,” a song dealing with sin, and “Violet Hill.”

Obviously the religious theme isn’t hard to miss; the theme of revolution is even more obvious. And, while I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about “Viva La Vida” the lines “Revolutionaries wait/for my head on a silver plate” couldn’t be a more perfect example. The lyrics aren’t just about fighting, though. Lines like “bury me in armor/when I’m dead and hit the ground” coupled with “I don’t want to be a soldier” seem to raise conflict between the need for revolution and the distaste for violence. This theme is literally the title of the album. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is almost verbatim (in another language) the artist asking himself, “Do I live my life to the fullest or follow death and all his friends?” Ultimately, the singer comes to a conclusion in the album’s closer, “Death And All His Friends,” with the statement “I don’t wanna cycle, recycle revenge;/I don’t wanna follow death and all his friends.” I find this line a little ironic, as the album itself cycles. So is your mind blown yet? Take a moment to process. It’s thought provoking, yes?

Nicely done, Coldplay.

There are a lot of interesting facts about this album, and I wish that I had the time to share them all. But I don’t, so I’ll start my conclusion with this: in preparation for my own review, I read a lot of what others had to say. The general consensus is that, yes, this was Coldplay’s greatest album at it’s release, and that yes, it’s got diversity and relatable lyrics. It appeals to quite a wide audience. However, that also might be it’s greatest criticism. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is obviously an album with a political statement. It just isn’t loud enough. Appealing to such a diverse group of people will without a doubt dilute any message. In the words of Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes, “Sometimes, to say what needs to be said, you need to risk pissing people off” (this quote was taken from this review, if you’re interested).

I guess the bottom line with regards to Viva La Vida is, no: it’s not going to go down in history as the best album ever created. But it is a work of art. You can hear the work that was put into this album, and it’s one of those albums that takes you to a different place. It’s an album that music junkies and non-music junkies alike can enjoy and have fun listening to. So I’m glad that one of my most devoted readers (Ok, last shout out to Matt right here) told me to listen to it. I’m willing to admit that I might have written off an album that didn’t deserve it.

Questions, comments, suggestions, snide remarks. They’re all welcome! As always, keep listening!

Honorable Song Mentions: Life in Technicolor/Cemeteries of London, 42, Lovers In Japan, Yes, Violet Hill, Death And All His Friends (And once again I manage to list almost the whole album. I think I have a problem.)

Fun Facts about Viva La Vida:
The cover to the album is a painting called Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix
Les Miserables was listed as an inspiration for the album
(This one was told to me today, actually) The unique piano sound from “Lovers in Japan” comes from an old piano with tacks pushed into the piano hammers — they were trying to create the same sound as a tack piano
On tour, the band played in French Revolution inspired outfits

One last thing – obviously the image used doesn’t belong to me. Just thought I might start throwing that in there.

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2 thoughts on “Listen, But Don’t Revolt

  1. For the most part I agree with you. I like how every song on the album has a seemingly different instrument selection. For example, “Strawberry Swing” almost has a bluegrass influence. And I think it’s “Yes” that has a Middle Eastern sound. I can appreciate that this album is very different from their older stuff, which is what makes it good. I like when a band isn’t afraid to change up their sound. But I hold on to my assertion that the album sounds like Coldplay. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s what makes them unique in their Coldplay way. Like I said, I’m glad it was suggested to me because I might not have realized how good it actually is. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Intriguing concept, about the degree to which a political statement, or the sound of the music through which you convey the statement, is loud enough. I tend to agree with you there and not having listened to the entire Coldplay album I can’t say whether it applies, but it seems like a plausible assertion.
    I disagree somewhat about their songs being too similar to each other. I think a lot of their songs (from all their albums) do have the “standard” Coldplay sound, but some don’t. This album received so much acclaim and attention, at least in part, I think, because it has congruity. In literary terms, it has a consistent voice and tone. While the album adheres to a certain form and structure, it departs somewhat from the band’s previous work. The best albums I can think of almost invariably share this quality. The bands take a sound and a set of ideas that go together and just make music. Some bands and some songs are so firmly imprinted in our minds that we can’t separate the sounds and feelings of one song or album from those of the band itself, but I think for the most part, that rule applies.
    One characteristic that contributed to the distinct sound on this album was the instrument selection. The eastern-sounding string instrument used in Life in Technicolor II as well as other songs is haunting and natural in a way that the standard piano/guitar/drums arrangement never could be. Those are some of the impressions I’ve gotten from my brief experience with this album, but in general, I think it deserved its popularity and I agree that it’s worth listening to, maybe even giving some serious attention.

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