Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends – Coldplay

As part of the promotion for my new EP, Demos from Safety, I’m posting reviews of some of the works which inspired each song on the album. My song “Immortality” opens on the chord progression to “Violet Hill”, something that wasn’t intentional but definitely makes sense; the main thrust of the song, a lament after all has come and gone, follows in the footsteps of Coldplay’s transcendent post-authoritarian love song. My song explores the full space within the minor key, but “Violet Hill” is what taught me the versatility of the minor key, and its ending has always stuck with me.

Coldplay gets a lot of flack for how accessible their songs are, but this album holds a depth of sound beyond comparison. (I will try anyway.) “Life in Technicolor” is like Brian Eno produced a song off of Butterfly 3000; it carries this wonderful nameless joy. (I wrote this last sentence before checking and finding out that Brian Eno really did work on this album and that song. I’m going to stop trying.) “Cemeteries of London” is deeply longing, owing to its ethereal instrumentation (I had a sense that no physical process could make those sounds) and focus on the v chord. Throughout the entire album, there’s constantly that feeling of impenetrability in the production, like in “42”, when they put the piano, violins, and choir together so that the chords crash against you no matter where you look in the mix. The melody lines don’t slouch either, like the frenetic, staccato riff to “Strawberry Swing”, which hit the musician in me like a freight train, and which develops beautifully over the song. Coldplay’s composition is as nuanced as ever; they’ve found that they like to create mode mixture by throwing in natural thirds during minor sections, creating a thread throughout the album. The bombastic, heavily distorted guitars which always help Coldplay change from one section to another are always a highlight, and the drums regularly take some wonderfully complex arrangements. Chris Martin’s vocals are soothing and sweet throughout, floating the listener through the comforting lullaby of “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love”, but taking on an entirely different, also engaging, character on songs like “Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant” and “Violet Hill”. “Violet Hill” is the best song on this album, and, if you want to know why, just look at the chords; the hook eschews traditional bar-by-bar progressions and takes a classical choral harmony, building to the song’s finale, which is based on soft, free, and always interesting melodic chord shifts. I’d point out that “Violet Hill” is a joy to sit down and play on guitar, but it immediately follows “Viva La Vida”, an anthem for ebullient stadiums to sing along to which makes fun of royalty. I’d take too long to talk about every beautiful section on this album, but let me just say that this album really, truly comforts me. There are few better things for music to do.

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