Throughout their multi-platinum career, Chris Martin and his band mates have attempted to dominate the rock landscape as an anthemic but melodic, experimental but ultra-accessible cross between U2 and Radiohead, and on their fourth album, they hired none other than the ultimate art-rock wizard to tinker with their sound. But this was largely a wasted opportunity.
On the best albums Brian Eno produced for U2 (“Achtung Baby” and “Zooropa”), he was given free reign to “erase anything that sounded too much like U2,” thereby forcing the band do explore brave new territories. On “Viva la Vida,” he merely tarts up Coldplay’s standard atmospheric piano ballads by placing Martin’s sometimes thin tenor further back in the mix, adding more layered, circular and sometimes ethnic rhythms and placing the translucent gauze of a layer of synthesizer swirl over things here and there.
Mind you, none of these are bad things; they just aren’t even as inventive as the Krautrock nods on Coldplay’s last album, “X & Y” (2005), much less Eno’s best work with Daid Bowie, Talking Heads, Roxy Music or those bombastic Dubliners. But Coldplay is even more of a traditional, folk-based pop band than another, mostly forgotten, band on Eno’s resume, James, a bit heavier on the pomp, but also stronger with the melodies. And ultimately, Martin & Co. simply have given us another collection of perfectly pleasant escapist arena-rock ditties—“Cemeteries of London,” “42,” the first, gently anti-war single “Violet Hill” and the title track among them—which is perfectly nice if not extraordinary, and all they’ve ever promised anyway.
As Martin croons over the shimmering synths in “The Escapist,” a “hidden” tracks at the end of the disc, “And in the end, we lie awake and we dream of making our escape.”