All rock bands are thieves of one breed or another—from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to whatever Johnny-come-lately happens to be on the cover of NME this week. It’s the smart ones, however, who cop to the offense, and Coldplay is no exception.
Way back in the pre-Gwyneth days, Chris Martin had already established his perfect defense against accusations of being a copycat, using an impenetrable wall of modesty to avoid the anticipated post-“Yellow” backlash. With each subsequent release, Coldplay has faced new variations on the same old criticism, and the group has continued to shake them off every time, becoming the biggest rock band in the world in the process.
With Viva La Vida, the band’s slow gestation from Bends-era Radiohead devotees to full-on, Jumbotron U2 torchbearers is complete. It’s a coronation they wisely put in the hands of Joshua Tree producer Brian Eno, a man who knows a thing or two about the need for subtlety even within the widest scope.
Like most Coldplay albums, you might be inclined to hate this one at first. The title is stupid, the cover art lazily defaces a Delacroix painting, and everything sounds just a wee bit familiar. Rather than Bono, Martin actually does a dead-on Sting impression at the end of “Life in Technicolor.” “Lovers in Japan” is a New Wave retro-march right out of Arcade Fire’s repertoire. And the best song on the album, “Lost,” somehow has the same chord progression as Joan Osbourne’s godforsaken “One of Us.” All of these songs also sound like U2, of course, but somehow, you like it. I like it. Everybody likes it. And that’s the magic of Coldplay, Britain’s current princes of thieves.