Chris Martin is dressed like one of Napoleon III's cavalry, or perhaps just Adam Ant. As the scenes from the French Revolution on the sleeve of their fourth album Viva La Vida suggest, Coldplay are aiming for such old-fashioned romantic sweep. But Martin will never be a hero from the history books. Every time he opens his mouth, the cheery platitudes could be Cliff Richard's. And when he occasionally stops sprinting and somersaulting across this stadium, the still Martin isn't a star.
Coldplay arrive waving sparklers in the dark, to the crisp wintry scenes of "Violet Hill", and reach out to the 02's cavernous corners with the skill of stadium veterans. The sound is as precise as the needles of laser-light sweeping the crowd, giving Martin's politely yearning voice a warmly human grain. He is soon at his piano, picking out the minor chords that unlock hearts on "In My Place". "Fix You" then takes on church organ tones, offering it as a hymn of secular salvation. The song is Coldplay at their worst. What Martin is offering to fix is nebulous. There's no sense of sin to be saved from. As when "The Hardest Part" tackles death, and wonders "what it's all about", Coldplay's world is superficial. They give mild universal comfort to small emotional aches: pop music as aspirin.
They do, though, try hard. The arena is opened up by their march right through the crowd, to midway up the 02's seats. There they play "Green Eyes" in scratchy folk style with Simon Pegg on mouth-organ, finding an intimate moment in this vast venue. Viva La Vida, with its much-trumpeted Brian Eno production, is meanwhile part of Radiohead's bequest to the bands who've followed them, demanding musical ambition. You can hear it tonight, as when "42" rampages somewhere between stadium Springsteen and a manic Radiohead breakdown. Jonny Buckland's wobbling, watery guitar tiptoes out towards Jonny Greenwood terrain, and the sound constantly thickens, as if about to lift off from the songs' anaemic sentiment.
"We've only got about two hit singles, and one of them's about to be taken from us by some guitar player," is Martin's introduction to "Yellow", referring to Joe Satriani's plagiarism suit against "Viva La Vida". The former song is stretched out with scissor-kicking pleasure. And when "The Scientist" is twinned with Take That's "Back for Good", Coldplay confirm they're a selfless band for the masses. But there were no strong feelings, and no surprises.