Sap and Pap
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, Coldplay's fourth album, is a frustrating experience. This is an album that desperately wants to be appreciated, that wants to be seen as a step forward, a progression, a new height that's just been scaled. Likewise, this listener desperately wanted to like it. And there is much to appreciate. Sonically, producers Brian Eno and Markus Dravs have allowed the band to fulfill its musical potential. In other words, this is the best Coldplay's ever going to sound.
The problem is that Chris Martin's songwriting is still the worst kind of banal; just when you've become comfortable with the fact that he sucks, he throws you a curveball--a catchy and uplifting pop song that's not completely embarrassing to listen to.
X&Y, their last album, possessed precious few of these. Each track was tainted in its own unique way (from the Kraftwerk bastardizing of "Talk" to the laugh-out-loud mawkishness of "Fix You"), and it appeared as if it was time to finally write off Coldplay for the sub-par U2 replicants they were.
Now, with Viva La Vida, you get an album that has a handful of songs that can be anything from tolerable to downright impressive. And then you have the remaining tracks, a hodgepodge of fluff and naïve sentiment, the stuff that made Martin the dreamboat obsession of bored housewives everywhere.
"Life in Technicolor", "Lost!", "42", "Violet Hill" and "Viva La Vida" (the high point of the album)--the "good" tracks on the album--all showcase the band in its best light. Small risks and gambles, plus an obvious producer's hand, have brought to fruition some of the oddest, most interesting Coldplay tracks we're likely to ever here.
Unfortunately, in between these tracks we must tolerate the typical sap and pap, songs like "Cemeteries of London", "Strawberry Swing" and the absolutely ridiculous "Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love." These are the songs where no amount of set dressing or production tricks can mask Martin's shortcomings as a songwriter.
And that's a shame. The album sounds great, but if Coldplay can't completely emerge from the dregs of mediocrity under these conditions, it's not likely that they ever will. --Josh Kline
Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust
So, Coldplay gets all experimental and prog while Sigur Ros makes a pop album with Flood (the uber-producer of U2 and the Killers, among others). What's happening to our precious world? Pretty soon tornadoes will be ripping through downtown L.A. and Dennis Quaid will have to save us all.
Actually, it's not as extreme as you might think. The Icelandic group that once was the frontrunner for God's official house band has simply scaled back its epic majesty in favor of some light, loose pop that retains the grandeur of previous albums while exploring a new kind of energetic whimsy.
The first handful of songs showcases the band's newfound exuberance with upbeat, percussive three-minute tracks like "Gobbledigook" and "Vid Spilum Endalaust." But as the album progresses, they slowly slip back into the narcotic haze that defined earlier albums like ( ). Songs like "Festival", "Ara batur" and album closer "All Alright" are spare, ambient ballads that recall ( ) and Agaetis Byrjun, with punctuations of occasional orchestral digression straight out of 2005's Takk.
The bottom line is that they haven't changed what they're doing so much as they've added new elements; this is not a pandering album that's been tailor made for radio play, it's a natural progression from one of the world's greatest working bands. It's as emotive, angelic and otherworldly as anything they've ever done, but this time they're spending a few minutes down on earth before ascending back into the clouds. --JK
Off the Drugs
24 year-old Duffy is a terribly charming Welsh crooner who will doubtlessly provide a breath of fresh air for disillusioned Amy Winehouse fans everywhere. While not nearly as memorable as Winehouse's Back to Black, Rockferry provides the kind of retro-soul that Back to Black introduced to the mainstream before its author descended into a paparazzi-documented black hole of crack and crying.
The good news? Duffy doesn't imbibe, so we'll probably see a few more records from her. Unfortunately, without the rock star image and rampant sex-and-drug euphemisms, the sunny blonde can sometimes come off as a bit precious. She's mining the same territory as Winehouse, but without her edge there's a temptation to write off the music as antiquated and irrelevant. That would be a mistake. Songs like "Mercy" and "Rockferry" are as good as anything found in the Winehouse catalogue, and even the most sugary-sweet tracks ("Syrup and Honey" anyone?) are elevated by Duffy's elegant, restrained delivery. There's an easy likeability throughout that never disappears, even during the occasional misstep (the simplicity of "Serious" comes off as awkwardly adolescent).
So far, Duffy has provided what's essentially an acceptable Winehouse facsimile, but with it she's shown the potential to grow into her own as a respectable mainstream artist. Let's just hope she doesn't develop a crack habit. -JK
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