Brian Eno adds sheen to swooning fourth
Chris Martin & Co reach for the stars on gently ambitious fourth album
When Coldplay’s X&Y was delayed back in 2005, EMI were forced to issue a profits warning. This time round you get the feeling that slightest slip-up on their fourth album could trigger the collapse of the recording industry, if not the entire British economy.
Admirably, the band seem more concerned with the state of their critical stock. After brazenly copping to having ripped off Radiohead for their first record, the Bunnymen for their second and themselves for their third, they’ve announced that this is where they step up to the plate of rock history. And so Brian Eno has been recruited, in the hope that he might do for Coldplay what he did for U2. Or as Martin himself cheekily put it: “He helped us realise there’s a lot more stuff out there to steal”.
Viva La Vida references Frida Kahlo in its portentous title; gestures at a wider world of tabla rhythms, high-life guitars and flamenco handclaps; and hints at the warp and woof of My Bloody Valentine, the anthemic rush of Arcade Fire and – well, of course – the jittery ambience of Radiohead circa Kid A. But all this gently refreshes the Coldplay brand without severely testing or radically rethinking it.
Things start off promisingly with “Life In Technicolour”, a twinkling electro-acoustic instrumental that might have strayed from an Eno solo record. But the limits to the band’s reinvention become apparent once Chris Martin opens his mouth. He aims for the vicinity of Bono, but singing lines about “rivers to cross” and “Jerusalem bells”, or lamenting on “Yes” that “For some reason I can’t explain / I know St Peter won’t be calling my name” his thin, wistful voice can’t carry off the would-be Biblical gravitas – no matter how low he croons.
When it’s not straining for Significance, though, Viva La Vida… is often rather lovely. “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” is genuinely grand rather than grandiose, while “Strawberry Swing” glides along on a gorgeous guitar figure, exclaiming “it’s such a perfect day… I wouldn’t want to change a thing”. Beyond all the cosmetic tinkering and wishful profundity, there’s an endearingly cosy conservatism at the heart of Coldplay: the British MOR economy, at least, is still in safe hands.