Coldplay’s 2008 album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is right up there with Fiona Apple for long album titles. It’s more experimental and even pensive than their previous efforts. The cover is the painting Liberty Leading the People, which provides a hint as to the album’s themes: war; loss; love. With Parachutes, Coldplay’s debut, you had the iconic “Yellow,” which introduced us to Chris Martin’s falsetto. Here, his vocals are used to great effect. Its softness belies the universality of Viva la Vida…‘s lyrics.
The breakout star of the album is the song of the same name, so that’s primarily what I’d like to discuss today. It was truly inescapable back in 2008. “Viva la Vida” inspired cello covers and a truly excellent mashup with Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” another song from that year that you couldn’t get away from. Today, of course, the song lives on in meme form.
The song is incredibly sweeping, thanks to the lyrical content and the string section that supports it. The Wall of Sound-esque effect almost drowns out the story. It’s a sad one. “Viva la Vida” describes a fallen emperor who used to “rule the world” and “feel the fear in my enemies’ eyes.” He commanded “missionaries in a foreign field.” Now, however, the narrator is plagued by revolutionaries who “wait/for my head on a silver plate.”
On its face, “Viva la Vida” is an intriguing song. It’s not relatable, unless you’re a historic British king. It’s not your stereotypical pop song, either. And yet its very quirkiness makes it catchy. You want to keep listening, if only to hear the rest of the story.