In 2008, the globally famed British band, Coldplay, created their most downloaded album, titled Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. 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 one 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, Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X&Y, were more rock and acoustic-based.
Off the bat, “Viva La Vida” starts with church bell sounds that go off like bombs. You’re automatically immersed in their world, which is the French Revolution. The album art 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 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 kickass 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 civilians of the land overthrew their king; he became a monster. And the lyrics “from 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. 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 historical approach to a religious prophecy. It’s 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, Jonny Buckland (Lead Guitar), Will Champion (Drums), and Guy Berryman (Bass Guitar), begin performing gospel-inspired backup 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 “live your life.”
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 canvas. 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.