Over the past few months, I’ve been exploring old music that I used to listen to, poring over old artists and albums that I found in years past. I firmly believe that the music one listens to in high school is deeply impactful, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget some of the bands that adorned my first iPod so many years ago.
Coldplay is one of those bands. I started listening to them right before they released Viva la Vida, and I’ve played songs like “Clocks,” “Fix You,” and the title track from Viva more times than I can remember. Like many other artists that I first found so long ago though, I barely play their music anymore. But this time I did, and I was struck by just how good this album was and is.
The point of this long preamble is this: Coldplay has written some absolutely fantastic music, music that genuinely pushed and formed the boundaries of whatever genre one places them into. And now, beset by a smattering of electronics and Super Bowl halftime shows, they’re gone. Their music today bears nearly no resemblance to any of their earlier tracks, and as a result I feel little inclination to listen to their new songs.
This sounds harsh, and I should clarify that this post is meant more to remember their former greatness than condemn their new directions. All the band’s members are hugely successful, and their new musical directions still attract plenty of fans. I just miss the sound, feel, and tone of these earlier albums, and I think that Viva la Vida may be one of the most underrated albums of the last 10 years.
Take the second song, “Cemeteries of London,” and the third, “Lost!” Both songs feature dynamic percussion — whether through booming drums or hand clapping—combined with organ music, Chris Martin’s ethereal vocals, and a variety of eclectic instruments to complement the main songs. Coldplay doesn’t reinvent the genre with these instruments or musical themes, but they were genuinely different from a lot of artists, and the group incorporated them without losing any of the accessibility.
I’m not the only one who sees this either. Sputnikmusic’s Adam Downer wrote:
“Viva la Vida shows Coldplay taking risks that the general public never suspected they would ever take, and having a ball doing it. The result is easily Coldplay’s best album to date, a record filled with exuberance, charm, and the heart they’ve been feigning for years.”
Part of the reason that I love this album may be my affinity for organs and pianos. Coldplay uses these instruments on this album extensively, and they do a good job with them. But each song also feels multilayered, like there’s so much more than the initial melody. The next song, “42,” is a perfect example. It starts out slowly, with just a piano and Martin’s vocals. Then it slowly morphs, turning into an up-tempo rocker by its end.
From there, it only gets better. “Lovers in Japan” and “Yes” are both beautiful and complex, and each one features the same complexity that marks “42.” The title track isn’t quite as distinctive as the others, but it’s still one of the best radio-friendly songs that I’ve ever listened to. I haven’t heard too many tracks that can (a) sing about themes close to the French Revolution and (b) still sound fun and accessible.
But this isn’t who the band is today. I still listened to Mylo Xyloto when it came out, recognizing it as a good album that can’t truly compare to its predecessor. Then, I gradually lost touch of Coldplay, and their newest effort got such horrendous reviews that I haven’t even bothered with it. It may be a perfectly fine album, but let’s face it, I’ve already heard the best that this band can do.
As I age, I look back with a mixture of fondness and horror on the bands that I used to listen to. Some are good (like Coldplay), and some are truly awful. I know that it isn’t just the glow of nostalgia that colors Viva la Vida in rose, though. This is legitimately a fantastic album, and I’m glad to have rediscovered it.
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on my blog.