Coldplay's X&Y, they've since explained, was the final part of a trilogy – a claim some might consider a cunning defence against accusations that they're a one-trick pony mining a stadium-filling formula to death. Whichever way one takes it, it leaves the globe-girdling anthem-mongers with quite a mountain to climb on Viva La Vida.
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Their Sherpa Tensing on this tough ascent is Brian Eno, sonic enabler to the stars, doubtless drafted in for his success in keeping U2 more or less on their game, and famed for his idiosyncratic approach to the producer's job (on one occasion, he suggested Bono and his chums take a holiday). But it's hard to hear any specifically Eno-esque cast to the sound of Viva La Vida, save for the soaring synth pad behind the tack-piano march of "Lovers In Japan". And one suspects his hand may have been behind the oddly contradictory effect gained by layering tiny tendrils of backward guitar behind the Bo Diddley beat of "Strawberry Swing", which is the most notable thing about the track: certainly, whenever it slips into passages of strummed acoustic guitar, the song all but dissolves away to nothing.
The album opens in a shimmer of keyboards with "Life In Technicolor", building over two minutes of dulcimer and drums before giving way to "Cemeteries of London", a faux-folk piece built from wisps of U2-ish guitar and piano, whipped along by galloping drums. A similarly bustling clatter of dohl drums and offbeat handclaps powers "Lost!", though the uncharacteristic industry disguises what is a typical Coldplay lyrical trope ("Just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost"). It's the first hint that, whatever their intentions, Coldplay will struggle to shake off their old ways; the second comes hot on its heels with "42", a multi-sectioned piece about death ("Those who are dead are not dead, they're just living in my head").
"Viva La Vida" itself likewise cleaves to a Coldplay staple, in this case that of devising a simple, memorable melody line and ramming it home through endless repetition. It adopts an oddly chipper tone for a song about a former leader fallen on hard times, but makes an apt pairing with the cantering battle fantasy "Violet Hill", yet another example, with "Cemeteries of London", "42" and "Death and All His Friends", of the album's fascination with death. The purported passing of their former style, however, has been greatly exaggerated, though whether the attempt here to chart a new musical course will lead anywhere as imposing remains to be heard. This is pretty average stuff.
Pick of the album: 'Strawberry Swing', '42', 'Lost!'