Coldplay has a lot riding on its fourth release, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Not only is the band's viability at stake, the survival of EMI (Capitol's parent company) also depends on its record sales. So perhaps desperation to move units aided in the decision to hire Brian Eno, the producer used to revitalizing stadium acts seconds before they sour, to work on Viva.
Eno attempts to use the same formula that worked with U2, and freshens up Coldplay's reliable brand of emotive lyricism and comforting melody lines with his signature ambient infusions. The result, however, is that he has made Coldplay sound like U2. The guitars get a disturbingly Edge-like jangle, in particular on "Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love." That's the least of Viva's problems. The album is also highly dependent on overwrought ideas. The number of religious and war references — particularly on the title track — quickly slip into overbearing, but the orchestration is especially excessive. "Lost!" uses booming church organs to bolster the religious tone, while "Yes" is smothered in violins. And as Coldplay aims for global domination, its instrumental palate likewise spans the map. The band includes South American and North African sounds on "Strawberry Swing," while on the incongruous opener, "Life In Technicolor," the Persian santur is worked overtime.
Coldplay attempts to dazzle with these distracting new elements, but at the core the group is missing simple, hook-driven pop songs. It's a basic requirement its first two albums had in spades, while its last two offerings — particularly Vida — lack completely.