Sunday, June 22, 2008

You can come out now.

I've got a rather conflicted relationship with Coldplay. I first heard Coldplay during law school. Stumbled upon the last bit of the video for "Yellow" while clicking through MTV and found it to be rather catchy -- especially for something on MTV. (I'm pretty sure "Yellow" was already a colossal hit, but I had no idea because I'd basically stopped listening to the radio.) I mentioned my intrigue to one of my music buddies: "Hey, have you heard this song 'Yellow?'" His response was an indignant, "Bleh!" And that was that for my nascent interest in Coldplay.

My next meaningful encounter with the band came at Coachella 2005 -- five years later and a chance to redeem my musical independence. Alas, it was not to be, thanks to one very annoying girl.

After Coachella, a friend at work lent me his copy of X&Y. I was skeptical and cautiously aware of the consequences entailed by becoming a fan of a megaband. But I took a listen and got hooked. For a long stretch afterwards, Coldplay was among the heaviest players on my iPod rotation.

But I was always a bit self-conscious about being a fan. So much so that, after Coldplay made it into the top 10 of my Last.fm profile, I semi-consciously started listening to them less. I felt like an English literature major trying to hide his Danielle Steele "novel."

Well, there's no hiding my love for the seemingly pedestrian now. I picked up Viva La Vida last week, and Coldplay will soon be back in my top 10. I've been listening to the album virtually non-stop since last Tuesday.

My guess is that Coldplay traditionalists probably don't like the album as much as I do. They tend to favor the soft stuff (e.g., "The Scientist") whereas I prefer the hard stuff (e.g., "Square One"). More so than any Coldplay album, Viva La Vida lets Jonny, Will and Guy do their thing unencumbered. Instrumentation finally takes more of the foreground than Chris's voice, and Coldplay sounds more like what they describe themselves to be on MySpace: "our type of music is very heavy soft rock." Apparently, that didn't happen by accident, as Chris notes in an NYT article:
Mr. Martin said the band sat down about two years ago, after a lengthy tour behind “X&Y,” and said, “If we carry on like this, it’s going to appear like a one-man show, and it’s going to get very boring very quickly.” So, he explained, “everybody felt like they had to rip it up and start again.

I'm sure Brian Eno deserves much of the credit for the fuller sound. The liner notes credit him for the album's "sonic landscape," and that's a very fitting term. Many reviewers feel the need to invoke comparisons to U2 -- which is rather annoying -- just because Eno produced many of U2's albums. (Worse yet are the implicit suggestions that Coldplay is trying, unsuccessfuly, to pose as U2.) I don't hear any U2 at all. Rather, I hear Slowdive, Chapterhouse and other shoegazer goodness -- what with the effects-laden guitars swirling every which way. Makes you wonder if Jonny borrowed some effects pedals from Robin Guthrie or Kevin Shields.

When I heard "Cemeteries of London" and "Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love," aural memories of Slowdive's "Souvlaki Space Station" immediately swooped into the forefront of my consciousness. All three tracks feature a sustained, atmospheric drone that's somehow reminiscent of a ghost howling in the wind. (Quite appropriate for "Cemteries of London," no?) Lo and behold, when I read Eno's Wikipedia entry, I discovered that he worked on Souvlaki.

Actually, when I say
"Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love," I really mean "Lovers in Japan." That's one of the few annoying things about Viva La Vida -- a number of tracks (i.e., "Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love," "Yes" and "Death and All His Friends") inexplicably consist of two perfectly fine standalone songs rolled into one unecessarily long one. Bothered me so much that I spliced each of those in two with a sound editor.

But that annoyance is a small one. All in all, Viva La Vida is a damn good album. I almost regret leaving the first night of Coachella 2005 early. Almost.

Let's see if the affection sticks this time and I'm still hanging out with Coldplay in public a couple of months from now.

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