On Repeat: Coldplay

No one likes being wrong, and having to admit you were wrong is even worse, but there’s at least one exception that that rule: When it comes to music, it’s not a frustration or an embarrassment, but, rather, a true joy when something great comes from an unexpected source. And I’ll be the first to admit that I never would’ve thought I’d want to listen to a Coldplay album more than once, and yet, this afternoon alone, I’ve listened to new album Viva la Vida twice, and it only seems to grow in stature the more spins I give it.

Specifically, I’m increasingly impressed by how seamlessly the record meshes the obsessions and quirks of its craftsmen– the band itself and producer Brian Eno. It’s a volatile mix of talents– which is unsurprising, since Coldplay has always aped U2, one of Eno’s most famous collaborators. And there’s certainly a strong presence not just of U2’s influence, but of other artsy pop artists like Peter Gabriel, as well; just listen to the dramatic organ tones and the worldbeat percussion of “Lost” and it’s not hard to tell that Eno’s had his hand in this music.

And yet, it never feels like Eno’s trying to turn them into something they’re not, or that the band brought him in to explore their U2 fixation more overtly. No, what’s really amazing here is that the band has turned their shortcomings and their limitations into strengths, channeling their U2 worship and their sense of good manners, their artsier ambitions and their limited emotional palette, into a record that rather cleverly explores and expands the boundaries of their familiar sound. It’s almost ironic that, for the first time, they’ve carved out their own undeniable identity as a band. This doesn’t sound like U2 lite; it sounds like Coldplay. And, as it turns out, Coldplay sounds pretty good.

Not only does it sustain a consistent mood throughout– one that’s shaped by different textures and sounds, to give it a sense of variety– but Chris Martin writes with a conceptual thrust we’ve never heard from him before. It’s a provocative set of songs about death and dying, about war and violence, about God and religion– indeed, the imagery alone here is wonderfully evocative, and the fact that he explores the same ideas from start to finish means he has room to say something meaningful, something worthy of contemplation. (Unless, of course, you’re Rolling Stone, which apparently prefers political sloganeering to mystery and restraint.)

So I admit it. I was wrong. Coldplay’s capable of making an album that’s not only worth hearing, but worth playing again and again. This is that record, and it’s an achievement worth celebrting.

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