I have a confession to make before reviewing this album: I'm a casual Coldplay fan. By that I mean that when a new album is released by them I will more than likely purchase it, listen to it non-stop for about three months, and then put a couple of their tracks on a couple of playlists on my iPod. I saw them live in 2005 and thought they were superb, in spite of the drinking fest that most attendees at the Odyssey tried to turn it into on the evening.
With all of that said, the new album from Chris Martin and pals has made a bit of a stir. It is hard to turn on the radio or lift a music magazine without hearing snatches of Viva La Vida, or seeing the band dressed like bit part actors from an adaptation of War and Peace. I bought my copy off iTunes, and have been listening to little else while driving in the car, or sitting at the laptop futilely hoping that a thesis might appear on the screen.
Overall, I think that Viva La Vida is a superb album. Much has been made of the 'new sound' that the band have sought to cultivate, and there are certainly welcome variations on 2005's X and Y offering. The audio texture of the album ranges from the Middle Eastern ("Yes") to the folksy Irish traditional ("Violet Hill", "Cemeteries of London") to the standard Coldplay sound ("Viva La Vida"). This gives the album a sense of freshness, without being too radical a departure from what one expects when purchasing Coldplay offerings.
Lyrically, the album presents few surprises. "Viva La Vida" is laden with references to Louis XVI and has a certain majestic sweep as it describes the transitory nature of power. "Cemeteries of London" carries a macabre edge, combined with the enigmatic image of people searching for "God in their own way". The much aired "Violet Hill" continues similar themes, although some of its lines are a little banal (does snow come in any other colour than white?).
All in all Viva La Vida is a great listening experience, and I think it will be ringing out of my iPod for some time to come. Enjoying Coldplay is a subversively enjoyable experience, given the lack of 'cool' factor heaped on them by the media, and I respect the fact that they are not afraid of good melodies and pounding choruses. There's also something great about hammering out an MTh thesis while singing out loud about Louis XVI and such like!
Postscript: Guy Davies over at Exiled Preacher has posted a much more in depth review of the album here. It's well worth a read, and has a challenging message by way of conclusion.