Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Album Review; Coldplay "Viva La Vida" & Weezer "Red Album"

In the summer of 2005, at the height of their careers, Coldplay and Weezer released highly anticipated albums. These releases would repel them in polar opposite directions despite the fact that the two bands shared a similar ascension to popularity; beginning with extremely strong debut albums based off of powerful, melodic rock. Weezer arose out of the 90's alternative age, whereas Coldplay came a decade later from the ashes of the Brit-Pop scene. Both broke the molds of their respective genres, rising above them and crossing over into radio territory. In 2005 when they had reached near equal stature in popularity and recognition, Weezer's album, Make Believe, had reflected a stagnation and sounded much more generic. Coldplay's X&Y, on the other hand, illustrated the band's acceptance of their radio-friendly pop as they created songs that were more pleasing to their arena sized audiences.

Coldplay was praised for embracing their pop-dom, whereas Weezer was received negativity for it from both their hardcore fanbase and critics alike. The common denominator was the apparent inclination towards crafting songs for their bigger, broader audiences, rather than well developed, eclectic material. This wasn't too big of a deal because they were still creating strong melodies, but not the varied and structurally dense melodies once found in their acclaimed debut albums. So, it goes for bands that become stadium sized. Now, three years later, both bands have released new albums: Weezer with their eponymous Red Album and Coldplay with Viva la Vida. What's immediately apparent is how their polarization has fueled and affected their sounds and directions as pop-rockstars on their new albums.

Weezer's negative connotation, derived from Make Believe, motivated lead singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo to take careful steps backward and divulge in what made Weezer so popular in the first place; connection to their devoted fans and their "personal" feeling songs. In knowing this, Rivers reconnected himself with the newly budding youth fanbase, (the Millennials/iGeneration) via Youtube. In March of 2008 Rivers created a profile on the site and asked his fellow Youtubers to help him write a song. When the first single from the Red Album appeared ("Pork and Beans") the video featured many of YouTube's celebrities and internet memes. Although it was admirably wise to try to personally connect with his audience, The Red Album is quite obviously stating that Rivers is only looking to continue his stream of youth-consciousness and, like a Youtube video, appeal to a juvenile, fickle audience leaving little room for growth. The songs on the album are again very well produced, some abnormally breaking the 5 minute mark, but are still mediocre at best, sounding like recycled Weezer.

Coldplay has taken their pop formality to the other extreme, embracing it diligently yet excessively. Chris Martin and Co. learned from their generically crafted song mistakes and with each new album attempt to improve on them. For the new album Viva la Vida, they choose the nineteenth-century painting Liberty Leading the People as the album sleeve, as if announcing the album to be as epic and grandiose as the painting's scenery. They hired auteur producer Brian Eno to give the album an abstract and atmospheric quality and even push some songs near progressive rock territory (the song "Yes" is 7:06). The expansion of material is definitely a step in the right direction, presenting only one problem; the lengthy material is not as melodic as their pop rock work of past albums. Although still strong and pleasurable to listen to, besides singles "Viva la Vida" and "Violet Hill", there isn't much other stand out material on the album. There is no way Coldplay will ever go back to being the band that created the softly acoustic Parachutes; they are too big for that. But like U2, Coldplay must be weary not to get too into their own sound and image, and this album, unfortunately, deviates slightly into that area (as with "Violet Hill" -- politically charged and unlike Coldplay).

This polarity is interesting. It shows how both bands attempted to find their nitch market by attending to and focusing on what granted their success, but both slightly missed the mark. Weezer once again attempted to attach themselves to a generation's apathetic youth, but because Rivers is obviously from a different generation, this ode sounds way too glossy and manufactured. Coldplay however should use this attachment instead of trying to rise above it. In doing so both must write more personally but Weezer less manufactured and more abstract, and Coldplay more manufactured and less abstract. Either way, these two bands aren't going away anytime soon and have plenty of time to try new methods to their meticulous mayhem.

Coldplay "Viva La Vida" - 3 out of 5 stars

Weezer "Red Album" 2 1/2 out of 5 stars