More Vida coverage: Our official review. Our essay on why Chris Martin just may have found Buddha. And of course, we’ve got a place for your reviews and comments.

Nathan Martin, assistant editor
No one tries harder in rock music than Chris Martin. This album is a classic case of what can happen when an overly ambitious but under-gifted rock star meets an overly gifted but mortal record producer. Brian Eno can do a lot, but he can’t make up for what Chris Martin just doesn’t have, namely a coherent and cogent musical vision. Martin has dealt in vague sweeping platitudes from his beginning that translates well to mainstream pop-music, tickling the ears but leaving the heart unchanged. This album tries so hard, but despite using a variety of majestic images in his songs (cemeteries, being dead, being high, being a missionary) that would seem to suggest something bigger being communicated, but when you get to the end of the album you realize that Chris Martin really doesn’t know what he’s trying to say. Even if he doesn’t have much to say, Eno helps Martin & Co. say it with a little imagination. At the end of the day, this album is nothing special and, despite Martin/Eno’s best effort’s, will be little more than an enjoyable, if slightly boring, addition to the arena pop rock bombastic showcase that is Coldplay. I’m still not sure how the French Revolution fits into the whole Viva la Vida conception. I don’t think Chris Martin does either, he just thought it’d be cool to have a new outfit on stage. Buy it, enjoy it, but don’t believe in it. There are way better revolutions out there.

John Wofford, contributor
This band has always been important to me—fond memories (although not so long ago) of the summer I felt like I started to grow up. And all summer long, there was the fist-pumping “Yellow,” the weepy “Fix You,” and the boisterous “Clocks.” There were tracks upon tracks of sappy goodness like musical pancake syrup, and I licked my fingers for hours. With Viva, I felt more excited about music than I have in months, revisited by a true-blue friend. The album set things right—it’s smarter than the Coldplay I’m used to, and the initial shock that this realization gave me took a few listens to wear off. The sentiments are deeper, somewhat more cynical. But it’s still Chris Martin. The melodies take some time to endear themselves, but they’re still there. The production design is far more organic, but it’s not entirely acoustic, either. These guys are walking a fine line and have consequentially reinvented themselves (or should I say, “invented themselves”?), this time not as a pretty-but-pretty-dumb Radiohead knockoff. Instead, they’re Coldplay—a matchless musical vision perpetuated by Martin and Co., unique to the market right now.

That isn’t to say the album’s perfect. “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” improved for me after a couple listens, but it has yet to show that it’s more than just convoluted filler with a familiar melodic progression, an overlong ballad with big plans but little means to get there. Still, one complete miss in an entire LP isn’t too bad, am I right? My (current) favorites are the sallow, then exuberant “42” and the colossal but meandering “Cemeteries of London.” But with the above-noted exception, the entire album is a winner. Does this signal the death of U2? Not a chance! But Viva makes an interesting argument in favor of a positive future for a tired pop market.

Derek Turner, contributor

A fourth studio album, produced by Brian Eno and named after a famous painting, that features more complex lyrical imagery and manipulation of metaphor than in their previous efforts, increasingly experimental and layered orchestration, an occasionally nauseating sense of belief in their own purpose, vague political and religious overtones, and two or three standout tracks that are already fan favorites. Though the album outlined here is Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, these criteria form an equally valid description of U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. I know the comparison between the two groups has been overdone, but it is useful to look at Vida in the light of U2’s work.

Vida is not a perfect album, nor is it even Coldplay’s best or most unified album. Some of the songs are timeless (“Viva La Vida”, “Reign of Love”, “Violet Hill”), while others are rather dull. But what the album lacks in cohesion it makes up for in ambition, which is both Martin’s blessing and curse. He and his bandmates would do well to take a page from the U2 playbook and to temper their unbridled optimism with a healthy dose of cynicism in future efforts.

Just as U2 began their career with albums that explored their faith and personal relationships, Coldplay has focused on the simpler themes of love and trust in their early work. It was on The Unforgettable Fire that U2 started to develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the world around them; though it was still rather immature, it blossomed into much more, just as we hope Coldplay’s worldview will continue to grow.

This album will produce skeptics of Coldplay’s talent, but doubters must remember their history: The Unforgettable Fire was actually rather forgettable aside from “Pride” and “Bad.” But U2’s next album was The Joshua Tree.

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Nathan Martin

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