My first reaction to Coldplay’s latest album, Viva la Vida, was a vision of myself running through a field of wildflowers. That’s how listening to it made me feel. Adjectives I could use to describe the tone of the album: freeing, invigorating, comfortable, settled. Whereas their previous albums felt less certain (more about searching, trying to find a place and a purpose), this one resonates with me as someone who is comfortable in his or her own skin.
I just turned 30, and I recently became a mother. I feel more settled and comfortable with who I am now than I did when I was in my 20s. The twenties are a decade where you are trying to figure out your place in the world, learning how to be a “grown up,” etc. Not that there’s a magic switch that turns on when you turn 30, but there’s something about starting a family and getting established in a career and a home, that calms you down, and gives you a new perspective on life.
I can’t be sure since I don’t know him personally, but I am guessing that this is the mindset from which Chris Martin approached this album. He is 31, married, has two children, and has an established music career, so he is a different person from the man who released his previous albums. Specifically, having a child opens up a whole new world of emotions that you never knew you had, and I hear those emotions in the lyrics and music on Coldplay’s new album.
That’s not to say that you can only enjoy this album if you are 30-something and have kids. Everyone approaches music from his or her unique place in the world, so everyone takes something different out of it. I do, however, think that the tone of this album may be well suited for people in the stage of life I mentioned above.
So, here is my very subjective look at the songs on this album.
1. Life in Technicolor – This is the song that made me think of running through a field of wildflowers. The music is very liberating, while at the same time nostalgic. I don’t mind that it’s an instrumental – that allows me to add my own thoughts to it. The music transports me back to where I’ve been, this journey that I’ve been on for the past 30 years, and also makes me look forward, expectantly, to what’s to come. The song title makes me think of photographs and home videos, which is probably why I see glimpses of my life. While it lacks the punch of previous album openers like “Politik” and “Square One,” it sets an appropriate tone for this album.
2. Cemeteries of London – This song is reminiscent of the ballads of English literature. It tells a story of people walking through London in the quiet early morning, searching for something. It turns modern day London into a mysterious, old world place. I love the haunting melody and chorus of “la la’s” in this song.
3. Lost! – I love the opening of this song, the odd meshing of hand claps, drums, and organ chords. And this song reflects the mindset I explained above, of being comfortable with who you are, and not worrying as much about what’s what: “Just because I’m losing / Doesn’t mean I’m lost / Doesn’t mean I’ll stop.” I interpret it as a song about persevering, accepting whatever comes your way. That’s an attitude that comes from previous experiences of failure and success, and a healthy dose of cynicism.
4. 42 – Another great song opening – Chris Martin’s beautiful voice and simple piano chords with pleasant chord progression. This is really like three songs in one, since it goes from slow and soft at the beginning, to upbeat and guitar driven in the middle, to almost frantic and poppish at the end. Personally, I would like it better if it stuck to the tone of the first part. What does the song mean? I have no clue. Something about people living on in our memories of them? According to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” So, I guess this is a song about searching for meaning and purpose in life and death. That’s a pretty broad subject, open to varied interpretation. I’ll have to listen to this song several more times to develop my own understanding of the lyrics, but for now I’ll just enjoy the music.
5. Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love – Another song about persevering, specifically when times get tough in relationships. In this two part song, I like the second one, “Reign of Love,” better. More of the relaxing piano and guitar that are what I love best about Coldplay. And the lyrics speak of the power of love, and its control over us. Not sure what locusts have to do with anything: “Locusts will lift me up,” “Locusts will let us stop.” But when have Coldplay lyrics ever made complete sense?
6. Yes – This may be my least favorite song on the album. It sounds too low for Chris Martin’s tenor voice. It’s a song about the struggle with temptation – the music reflects the frustration of such a situation, resulting in less pleasant musicality than most Coldplay songs. This song also features yet another shift in tone. I can’t make out what the lyrics are in the second part, which is also frustrating. Maybe that’s the point.
7. Viva la Vida – Great song, and classic Coldplay sound, with an added symphonic background. The historical context of the song may be from the event depicted on the album cover, which is Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” This painting commemorates The French Revolution of 1830, which overthrew Charles X. This song does bring to mind the saying “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.” In general, it can be taken as a song about the temporal nature of life, and how things can change quickly.
8. Violet Hill – This may be the catchiest song on the album. Like “Cemeteries of London,” it is reminiscent of an English ballad, telling a story of love, war, power, and death.
9. Strawberry Swing – I’ve read some reviews of this album that say it sounds more like Paul Simon than Coldplay. I could see that on this song, with the world music sound of the guitar and drums. It’s a sweet song about spending time with the one you love, and how integral that person can be to your world, to the point that when they aren’t around everything else is dull.
10. Death and All His Friends – The opening melody of this song reminds me of a song from the movie musical Once. Whatever it sounds like, this is a great song. I always love a chorus of men singing, and I get that here: “No, I don’t want to battle from beginning to end / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge / I don’t wanna follow Death and all of his friends.” This is another song about persevering and striving for vibrant relationships, a vibrant life, free from petty problems and grudges. I think the message is to hold on to the things that are important to you, and fight for them, because time is short.
This seems to be the theme of the entire album. Through good times and bad, be thankful for what you have, reflect on the triumphs and trials you’ve been through so far, and breathe deeply as you experience success, failures, and hardship, because they are what life is made of. So, I give two thumbs up to Viva la Vida. Another job well done by my favorite British band!