In 2008, the globally famed British band, Coldplay, created their most downloaded album, titled, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Coldplay has been known to be compared to Radiohead, U2, and have set the record to becoming the modern-day version of The Beatles. Whether you love them or hate them, Coldplay continues to record albums that garner successful sales. Over the years, Coldplay have been known to change their image with each album; making each album its own universal existence. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends which is their fourth studio album was also their most artistic one. The single “Viva La Vida” was Coldplay’s most accomplished track.
“Viva La Vida” introduced listeners and fans to the band’s use of string instruments (violins and cellos) and a church bell. Coldplay’s three previous albums called, Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X&Y were more rock and acoustic based. The three preceding albums post Viva La Vida era were more electronic and poppy sounding with Mylo Xyloto (2011), Ghost Stories (2014), and A Head Full of Dreams (2015).
Off the bat, “Viva La Vida” starts with church bell sounds that go off like bombs. You’re automatically immersed into their world, which is the French Revolution. The album art cover gives a clue of the history reference since it shows a woman holding the French flag while a bunch of bodies lay around her. Coldplay took the album art cover right from the romantic painting, Liberty Leading the People, by Eugene Delacroix.
The beginning verse is sung solemnly as Chris Martin says, “I used to rule the world / seas would rise when I gave the word / now in the morning I sleep alone / sweep the streets I used to own.” It appears that whoever Coldplay is representing, this person was once a ruler of a land that has now turned him into a peasant. Immediately after the initial verse, a beautiful instrumental follows that combines the beats from the church bells, with a violin chorus, and a kick-ass guitar riff.
Martin goes on to explain the ruthlessness of the King, “I used to roll the dice / feel the fear in my enemies eyes / listen as the crowd would sing / now the old king is dead / long live the king / one minute I held the key / next the walls were closed on me / and I discovered that my castle stands / upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.” These lyrics suggest that having ultimate power does not mean happiness. This King realized that what he was protecting or controlling, was a joke.
When the chorus comes in, everything collides as if the universe is imploding. Martin screams over the heavens like an infinite current, “I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing / Roman Cavalry choirs are singing / be my mirror, my sword, and shield / my missionaries in a foreign field / for some reason I can’t explain / once you go, there was never / never an honest word / but that was when I ruled the world.” This song is a history lesson on the struggles between nations gaining peace. The world is preparing for war and revolution is on the horizon.
The bridge is a brief transition that is filled with echoing violins and the steady melody. It sounds like the droplets of rain in a pond. The next set of lyrics ensue with, “It was a wicked and wild wind / blew down the doors to let me in / shattered windows and the sound of drums / people couldn’t believe what I’d become / revolutionaries wait / form my head on a silver plate / just a puppet on a lonely string / oh who would ever want to be king?” This shows the reason why the civilian’s of the land overthrew their King, because he became a monster. And the lyrics “form my head on a silver plate,” could mean they beheaded the King with a guillotine. Martin questions the importance of authority. Is it worth having all that power, if you’re alone?
The music then flows back to its epic chorus line, “I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing…” This time, however, the chorus replaces, “once you go, there was never,” with “I know Saint Peter won’t call my name.” Coldplay decides to alter the song from a history approach to a religious prophecy. Not a positive prophecy though as “Saint Peter” who is presumably God or Christ will deny the King his ticket into heaven. The former ruler will either plummet to hell or remain as a ghost on earth, forever in his own torment.
After the onslaught of meaningful vocals, the church bells, drums, violins, bass and guitar all come together to form a rhythm like exploding fireworks. The other members of the band such as, Jonny Buckland (Lead Guitar), Will Champion (Drummer), and Guy Berryman (Bass Guitar) begin performing gospel-inspired back-up shouts. Martin follows through with the third and final chorus line. This is the climax of the song, as everything is happening at once. This part gives me the chills. Martin finishes his rant with, “but that was when I ruled the world.” The remaining fifteen seconds of the song eases the listener out with soft vocals.
“Viva La Vida” is a brilliant song with an incredible amount of depth. Coldplay’s lyrics are explaining the July Revolution of 1830, in the eyes of King Charles X of France. That day may have been a beginning for the people of France, but was an end for King Charles X; literally and figuratively speaking. The phrase, “Viva La Vida” is translated from Spanish to “the life lives” or “long live life”. The song is symbolic of any person in power who has abused their position or acted as a dictator toward its people, eventually falling from grace. History tells us that fear mongering reigns wind up crumbling beneath the feet of freedom fighters.
Although the lyrics reflect on what was, the title keeps hope alive for people that are free of tyranny. The vibrations that the music creates in the song are similar to an artist throwing paints on a canvass. This alternative rock masterpiece could be sung over the Himalayas. “Viva La Vida” reigns supreme as a ruler in Coldplay’s discography. There is no toppling this juggernaut.
“Viva La Vida” had two music video versions.
Voice: 5 Stars
Lyrics: 5 Stars
Music: 5 Stars
Originality: 5 Stars
Delivery/presentation: 5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars
Image by Nurudin Jauhari from flickr.com/jauhari
If you enjoyed this and would like to read more from Anthony, check out his novel ‘Stay Awhile’ on Amazon amazon.com/Stay-Awhile.