Love them or hate them, Coldplay knows who they are and have since their first release, and that may just be the problem.
New York Times writer Jon Pareles called Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade." Pareles may have overstated things a bit, but in his 2005 article, "The Case Against Coldplay," Pareles does, in fact, make a good case against the band. In spite of being a fan of 2000's Parachutes and 2002's A Rush Of Blood to the Head, I couldn't help but agree with most of what he wrote.
Coldplay are, to their detriment, acutely aware of themselves, down to every note. And therein lies the problem. Rock music, at its most brilliant, is built on "happy accidents." Nothing about Coldplay's music is accidental, spontaneous or organic in any way. Add to the mix a high-profile front man who has cultivated a "Woe is me, I'm just like you" image—while being married to Gwyneth Paltrow, no less—and you have the makings of a band flirting dangerously with self-parody.
Coldplay's newest offering, Viva La Vida, is the culmination of their ascendancy into super-group status. It's been produced with surgical precision, marketed with sublime aplomb and even found its title track used to indirectly promote iTunes before its release date. These are all the hallmarks of a band finding its stride, at least commercially, if not artistically.
In the case of Viva La Vida, track after track of overproduced anthems drip with all the sincerity of a Hollywood air kiss. What's worse, the album's lyrics, if read on their own, possess the depth of a sixth-grade girl's first attempt at poetry. The opening lines of song "42," for example, find Martin proclaiming, "Those who are dead are not dead / They're just living in my head." Well, it does rhyme.
To prove they are a super-group, Coldplay hired producer extraordinaire Brian Eno to coax pearls of brilliance from Viva, although it's far more likely that his pedigree was employed as a means of establishing both the record and the band as being among the musical elite. Unfortunately, especially given the result, one is left questioning the validity of, and motivation for hiring such a musical luminary to produce for a band already graduated to product endorsement and sitcom background music. In the end, Eno's employment here does little more than draw attention to the band's desire to be spoken of in the same breath as U2. Sadly for Coldplay, Eno could not do for it what he did for U2. But then Coldplay is no U2. Not by a long shot.