Coldplay: Viva La Vida (Parlophone)
It seems that all men have their price, and Coldplay have obviously found Brian Eno's. Crossing his palm with silver, and much of it, can be the only excuse for his lamentable excursion into the pretentious world of Christopher and his dull friends. Tastefully done, with Eno using many of his trademark touches to elevate the mundane nature of the proceedings, it remains a divine exercise in turd gilding from a man who obviously knows better. But then, as the Pop Group (Mark Stewart) informed us many moons ago, "We Are All Prostitutes." It can only be a matter of time before he dollops his soundscapes over the likes of Leona Lewis or Westlife.
Rarely have a band been more appropriately named. Even fun arrives chilled, lifeless, but terribly earnest. Odious delusions of grandeur expressed in Martin's schoolboy ramblings, all portent but lacking in vision or clout, this album reeks of a need to be seen as artful. Even the cover ropes in poor old Delacroix as window dresser. Just because we drape something in classicism doesn't render it so. A poor man's Radiohead, they have delivered a record that will sell, but bad taste is a common currency in life, and this is the average ramblings of a thoroughly average band, in full majestic drag. Charisma isn't a commodity one can artificially generate, but here is a brazen attempt at achieving just that. This is pomposity and pretension, selling the masses an idea of integrity.
"Life in Technicolour" is Eno doing his best James Last impression. Archly active, it sounds like the theme to a shoddy cinema commercial, and should alert the wary to trust their instincts, whilst "Cemeteries of London" echoes the kind of folk-based fare that Seth Lakeman deliveries with greater aplomb and sincerity. One of the album's few high points, it remains strangely sterile. An air of falsehood permeates. "Love" is a perfect example of Chris Martin's limited palette of expression:
"42" inflicts further follies on the English language and is also a pretentious mess of a song. all mood changes, full of suggestion, but leaves by having gone nowhere. "Those who are dead are not dead they're just living in my head" means Leonard Cohen can sleep well at night, fully aware that his laureate laurels aren't under threat. Morrissey without the irony, but then I imagine that isn't a quality one uses much in the house where the cold play.
"Yes" has a faintly interesting edge, but again any artistry in the music is pulled down by Martin's drossy dribblings about being tired of loneliness and having his back on the ropes. Better not tell Gwyneth, but then all this faux misery, fills the audience's mouth with an empty spoon. The title track is the perfect example of this, a snatch from a rag bag of Albion-based allusions, Jerusalem bells, shields and swords, Saint Peter and Roman choirs. Hollow and ghastly, like touristy English souvenirs, it sums up the limited vision of a band bereft of insight.
"Violet Hill" is the only track that merits the price of the album, all proggy Beatles moodiness; it is a relief to find something with a whiff of integrity about it. The closer "Strawberry Swing" sounds like they've robbed a Japan "Tin Drum"-era percussion track but forgotten to construct a memorable melody to coat it. The album slinks off like a schoolboy in disgrace because "Death and All His Friends" is a sketch masquerading as subtle brevity.
Maybe an era gets the music it deserves. Coldplay are, then, the perfect soundtrack to a world in flux. In a time of virtual reality, the moods and emotions expressed by them appear genuine, and these can be enough for a while. The authentic article eventually outshines, because it doesn't lose its sheen. Veneer is all to Martin and Co. A band selling their version of preposterous selfhood isn't the same as one selling exposed and honest emotions.
Millions will sleepwalk into record shops and buy this album, colluding with a band's idea of its own integrity and pomposity. They'd be better off closing their eyes and purchasing the first CD their fingers reach. At least they might find something unusual or interesting. - Robert Cochrane
Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2008.