Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's A Long Title For An Album That's Done All Too Soon

Yesterday, Coldplay released a new album, entitled "Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends." I'm a fan of Coldplay because of their laid-back acoustic feel, but this album is decidedly more crunchy. Everything in this album, from their um, interesting choice of album art, to the untidy scrawl of the album name, to the sound of their first single, is more in-your-face and more aggressive and rockin'. I like acoustic music, but I like good rock also. There's always old Coldplay (and plenty of tracks on this album) that I can turn to when I'm feeling mellow, but it's good to hear some rock from the boys.

As with the Weezer Red Album, I'm going to listen to this album for the first time right now, and I'll write my impressions of each song as they come up. I'm not going to put a lyrical excerpt from every song this time. I'll just put lyrics that are catchy or that stand out to me.

Once again, I got the pre-order iTunes edition, so I have two additional bonus tracks: Lost? and the acoustic version of Lovers In Japan. I'll still write about those, but keep in mind that they might not be available to you.

1. Life In Technicolor
This is an instrumental track. It starts out with chiming sounds and a quick repetitive riff underneath. Next, a plucky stringed instrument (doesn't sound like a guitar...) comes in. More and more layers are added to the mix until it's a pretty good rockin' song, but it contains the classic Coldplay atmospheric noises in the background as well. There are yells by Chris Martin, does it count as instrumental then, even if the voices aren't saying anything?

2. Cemeteries of London
This track bleeds right in from Life In Technicolor. It's got a dark ambient feel, and Chris Martin singing in a weird key signature. It doesn't sound like a minor (aeolian) scale, maybe it's phrygian? Quickly-picked acoustic guitar and slapping drums come in. There's a weird vocal harmony part, and then an electric guitar solo with a voice not unlike the sound on Coldplay's "Talk" comes in. I think this song is about seeing evidence of God in everyday objects. It ends with a nice little sliding-down piano riff that didn't fit with anything else on the song.

3. Lost!
Hard-pounding drums and handclaps, plus pipe organ make the beginning of this song very distinctive. Tambourine and more organ layers come in for the chorus, and an electric guitar comes in halfway through the chorus. Falls into familiar Coldplay territory about two minutes in: Mellow vocal harmonies over atmospheric ambience. There's a distorted guitar solo right after, though, but the harmonies are kept in and hummed this time. This song was way too short. It was amazing, but wasn't long enough.

"You might be a big fish/in a little pond/doesn't mean you've won"

4. 42
Obviously, "42" refers to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, where it is proclaimed that "42" is the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. I wonder how this song is going to reference that. There's a weird piano part and then of course, the ambience comes in, but that's okay. I like this kind of ambience, where it's setting a mood and underlaying other things, but I don't like ambience where it's just noise for the sake of noise, like some of the stuff Pink Floyd does. Two minutes in, some kind of weird instrument comes in, like a cross between a trumpet and an electric guitar. This instrument leads into a happy, upbeat second section with a drumbeat and guitar riff that sounds a lot like New Order or The Cure could have done it. It goes back to the original section for the last two lines, and that ruins it. I also did not detect much of an idea about why "42" is the title.

"You thought you might be a ghost/you didn't get to heaven but you made it close"

5. Lovers In Japan / Reign Of Love
This song continues the feel of actually belonging to New Order. There are lots of guitar parts, some acoustic, some ambient, and some fuzzy electric riffs. It makes for a nice mix. There's a plinky piano part in the middle of the first song, it sounds like they put the microphone right next to the "bridge" of the piano where the strings don't vibrate as much and generate a plucky sound. They could be synthesizing it, of course. Lovers In Japan is a very good, happy, upbeat song, but it's kind of inane. It doesn't stick in your memory, because the riffs are too long and the sections change too often. I like it, but I'm not likely to be humming it anytime soon. It'll take a lot longer to memorize all the ins and outs of this song.

Lovers In Japan ends on a big, loud, fuzzy guitar tone, and Reign Of Love fades in right over the top of it. It's got some sweet rolling piano parts in the foreground, with weird percussion noises in the background. I have no idea how these guys recorded all these weird sounds. The rolling piano continues clear to the end and makes a nice finish to the track.

6. Yes (With Hidden Track: Chinese Sleep Chant)
Some very weird noises start out this song. Chris Martin's voice is very heavy in the mix, taking up all the space and leaving not much else able to be heard. It sounds like they put the microphone right in his mouth when recording, it's so resonant. Someone in the band (or I guess it could be someone else...) is good with a violin. It can't have been synthesized, because there are sounds of fingers fretting strings and the box sticking across the strings, making them resonate. It's a quick, low, choppy riff, and it sounds cool. Most of the songs so far have been comprised of a few chords in the background and funky riffs going back and forth between instruments. It's not a bad way to write music, but it sounds a little too... progressive for me. Coldplay is not supposed to be progressive rock, they're supposed to be mellow, beautiful, flowing arrangements filled with emotion and thought-provoking lyrics. I don't like it a ton, but they pull it off pretty well, I guess.

The second song on this track makes up for the really heavy voice in the song before it. There's a fairly heavy (for Coldplay, that is) guitar chopping away at chords and a bass creating a flowing background canvas, and Chris Martin's falsetto is shoved to the very back of the mix, as if it's... I dunno, as if the music were a big waterfall and he was trying to sing from behind the waterfall...

7. Viva la Vida
This song has made the rounds around the modern-rock charts and has remained one of the top-downloaded songs on iTunes since the very day it was available about three months ago. If you haven't heard it yet, there's something wrong, because it's everywhere. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a great little ditty, played mostly on orchestra instruments (including an upright string bass, none of this imitation electric bass stuff) and concert percussion, not a drum set. It creates a great feeling. The song is about a dethroned king, and thoughts of kings bring back memories of the olden days, and the olden days bring back thoughts of classical music, and this song captures that feel of good ol' classical music, without being classical.

8. Violet Hill
This is the band's first single, and it's done the rounds on iTunes and YouTube and the rock charts as well. It definitely takes the top place on the list of Coldplay Songs With Heavily Distorted Electric Guitar. It's very... crunchy. That word has been used a million times all over the place to describe this song, but that's the only word that fits. It's got very distinctive, rockin' guitars, but they're not very loud in the mix. The lesser-distorted guitars playing ambience take top spot, and the heavy chords come in quieter. It makes for a cool, top-heavy song, and it's no wonder that it's such a hit.

"When the future's architectured/by a carnival of idiots on show/you'd better lie low"

9. Strawberry Swing
Sounds as if they recorded this all together on some concert hall stage, instead of overdubbing tracks in a studio. It's got reverberating handclaps and drums that are giving off a much more rounded sound than they otherwise would in a studio... I dunno, maybe it's just a microphone trick. This song has great folk-style guitar riffs leaning a little bit to the right-side channel of the stereo mix, while the guitar chords come in later, leaning to the left, balancing out the song right as you start to feel a little off-balance. This is kind of an inane, silly, happy pop song, but it's great, and people will love it. It's upbeat, and without a trace of negativity or unhappiness. Since many Coldplay songs deal with loss or insecurity, this is a very welcome change-up for their usual musical theme.

"It's such a perfect day"

10. Death and All His Friends
The beginning reminds me of stuff done by The Fray: quiet, fuzzy, rolling piano and a single voice. Coldplay adds a mellow guitar riffs into it as well. The piano starts to pound the chords together instead of rolling over them, and the guitar riffs gets a little heavier, then comes a heavy one-measure fill, and a perfect pop song is born. The drum beat is the epitome of pop, and the piano is banging out bright chords in a syncopated pattern, and the guitar is drilling into a repetitive riff. Multiple voicals come in for a few great lines, then fade away to let the piano resume rolling and slowing down to finish off the song. Actually, I guess the song is only about halfway done. The piano fades into total silence for a few seconds, then another completely different song comes up, still under the same title. It's got rolling guitar tones reminiscent of the album opener, Life In Technicolor, but this time with words, albeit few of them. This is the last song on the official album, and all three sections of it would be great stand-alone album finishers.

"And/in the end/we lie awake/and we dream of makin' our escape"

11. Lost?
Not to be confused with Lost!, this is Lost?, and it's a more reflective, questioning version of the other one. Even though the lyrics of both songs are exactly the same, the music makes them sound much different. In Lost!, the heavy beat and quick tempo, it sounds as if Chris is singing about being already lost and the hopelessness of things. In Lost?, the slower tempo and the mellow piano chords without any other major music creates a feeling of being in denial about being lost. He sings as if he still has some hope of finding something or being able to get out of the hopelessness, instead of giving up and making the best of the little he has, like on Lost!. It's odd, but the different versions really do carry very different emotions with them, proving that lyrics are not everything.

"Just because I'm losin', doesn't mean I'm lost/doesn't mean I'll stop/doesn't mean I will cross"

12. Lovers In Japan (Acoustic Version)
Fifteen seconds into this song (essentially enough to get a plucky-sounding intro off the ground), and I'm already digging this song a lot. It's not just straight-up major guitar chords, like so many "acoustic" versions of things are. There are plenty of the atmospheric Coldplay sounds here, mostly supplied by a very far away tambourine and a mellow bass line, but there are plenty of very interesting acoustic guitar noises. Dissonances, sustained chords, and silly little repetitive riffs make this feel very... organic. Down-to-earth. Not as produced as all of the other songs on the album. Real. Something like that, I guess. Ends on a very high sustained note that sounds like a voice but is way too high for any normal human being to hit. This tone slowly fades into black, and that finishes up the album.

In conclusion, I'll say that Coldplay has created another brilliant album full of songs I'm sure to enjoy again and again. There are some problems, some things I didn't like, and just some weird things in general, but those are just small wrinkles in the otherwise smooth, glassy surface of the music. Some of the minor things I have taken issue with include:

-The atmospheric noises: Sure, ambience is great, and it can carry great emotion and can be great for setting the mood of a piece, but when every song has weird noises in the background and constant, high-pitched sighing things, it gets just a little bit old. It seems as if Coldplay is using the ambience as too much of a gimmick, and not a thing to be taken seriously and used sparingly in order to achieve the full effect. It's nothing major, but it detracts from the overall experience by being ever-present and demanding. If they would remove the weird noises in a few places, it would leave their music much bore open and raw and exposed, and that can carry more emotion than ambience will ever be able to.

-The weird multiple-songs-in-one-track idea: Sure, maybe a bonus track at the end of the album is okay, or maybe some kind of short song placed at the end of another long song is acceptable, but when you have seven songs rolled into three tracks, it's a little annoying. I will most probably be clipping these songs all apart and re-labeling them as individual tracks, just so I don't have to skip through things or remember time positions so I can jump right to the song I want to hear. When the last track contains three completely different songs, it could mean one of many things. You can be telling people that you had so many great ideas that you couldn't choose a good album finisher, which leaves you seeming pretty arrogant. You could be saying that you don't know how to pick a good album finisher and haven't given the matter proper thought or production time, which I doubt is the problem here, because this album feels almost too produced, (which is just another very small issue that I had, but not even big enough to merit its own paragraph). Or, it might say that you're trying to be too gimmicky with your music and trying to be clever or funny or quirky, in which case you end up not being taken seriously. Either way, it was kind of lame to stuff three songs into the last track, as well as hiding two other "bonus tracks" throughout the rest of the album. The extra songs are all good songs, but it would be nicer to at least have them out in the open as individual tracks so that you can listen to them and their companions separately and at your leisure.

All in all, though, it's a very good album, full of emotion and thought, and will have me listening to it on repeat for a long time to come. Clocking in at just over 53 minutes, it's not really a short album, but it's such a great musical journey that you'll never realize you've been lost for an hour in the land of Coldplay. 8 out of 10.

1 comment:

  1. great review!!! I love this album, it's so nice, well mixed, the songs are beautiful and it has its own atmosphere. Coldplay at his best...