10.08.2008

Shortly after falling in love with “Lost!”, “Death And All His Friends,” the final track on Viva La Vida, caught my ear (so to speak). It’s really two songs, “Death And All His Friends” and “The Escapist”; the latter is a reprise of sorts of the electronic-music stylings of the first song (“Life In Technicolor”) with some added lyrics, bringing the CD full circle. I always enjoy pieces that are cyclical in that way, because it provides a very satisfying sense of internal coherency. For those interested, my favorite example (and one of the very best) is in Morten Lauridsen’s art music work Mid-Winter Songs, where the very striking theme from the first movement returns in the middle of the fifth and final movement. I wrote a paper on this piece in college, and I’m sure I’ll eventually get around to writing about it here. In the meantime, suffice it to say that I appreciate Coldplay’s decision to bring the end of their CD back to the beginning. But my main focus will be on the first song.

“Death And All His Friends” is itself almost two songs, or at least a song in two very distinct parts. The first part is very simple, just soft piano, voice and a sparse electric guitar, telling a very brief story of a relationship that was entered into too quickly but reassuring that it’s all gonna be alright. I have to mention that I love the sound of the piano here: it has a very dark and mellow (as opposed to a bright) tone, which is not only the way I like all pianos to sound but very appropriate to the song’s character.

Suddenly at the 1:18 mark, the song changes: it immediately falls into a faster tempo, a (slightly) brighter piano and guitar take over, and the energy begins to build very quickly. It has the feeling of excitement swelling up and about to burst. And at 1:48 the burst comes. You can imagine the musicians headbanging and rocking out like nothing else on the hammered chords–this is another part of the CD that I can’t help moving to even when I’m driving. (I’ve always had a very physical, visceral response to music, but as far as popular music goes this CD takes the cake, and even the cookies and punch too.) It then “settles,” while still being very energetic, into a standard 4/4 groove, before hammering the same chord progression again. But this time, the progression adds an extra beat to accommodate two sudden solo guitar notes, and transitions seamlessly to an atypical but rocking 7/4 rhythm, with the solo guitar soaring over it all. It’s a climax so huge as to be almost transcendent. After one time through the 7/4 phrase, the whole band together sings twice, almost as a chant: “No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge / I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends….” The instruments proceed with a quickly-paced denouement and drop out individually, and the song fades out into silence and then back in with the electronics of “The Escapist.” This is another part of the album where it leaves the listener wanting more–I feel like four repetitions of the chant wouldn’t be out of place at all–but again, it’s made me listen to this song, like, three thousand times. One of the greatest climaxes of any album I’ve heard.

You can listen to the song here, courtesy of Last.fm: click on the black play button in the player on the right side of the page.

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