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"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best of 2008: Best Album

Note: In the interest of cataloguing and recording, I am using my blog as a vessel to select one and only one significant piece of culture from three different mediums: Film, Television Show and Album. I do not read enough books or see enough plays to form any kind of worthwhile opinion on either and I believe that Movies, TV and Music are the Big 3 of American pop culture anyway.

I am choosing only one from each because while I love Top Ten lists as much as the next guy (probably significantly more even), I find that the only part of the list that truly matters to me is the work that occupies the one spot. It is a powerful statement to whittle down all the films, shows and albums in a year into a list of ten, but it is another thing all together to find just ONE. In choosing one from each category, I am saying that if there were a nuclear holocaust imminent, I would choose these three works of art to place in an indestructible box so future generations could see the very best of what Western culture had to offer.

Just know that these choices are completely subjective and I am clearly not the most qualified person to choose the best of anything. I feel I know a lot about films and see enough of them in a given year to make an informed decision. I feel similarly strongly about TV shows, but I do not see quite as many shows as I do films. I know virtually nothing about Music, however, so if there is one category to take with a big ol' grain of salt, it would be Best Album.

Album of the Year: Viva La Vida - Coldplay
Runner-up: Stay Positive - The Hold Steady

By the release of Coldplay's 2005 X&Y, the band had become the worst thing a band can be: a parody of itself. Coldplay hadn't sold out or become too mainstream (when you have your sights on being the next U2, there really isn't such a thing as being too mainstream), they had just become boring. The Liverpool quartet seemed destined to make the same saccharine and stale soft-rock ditties for the rest of their days. And could you blame them? The approach had led them to a never-ending stream of money and pop cultural appeal. Who cares if the music begins to suffer?

Apparently, Coldplay did.

Of all the criticisms one can level at Viva La Vida, "stale" isn't one of them. Viva La Vida is an urgent, quick moving album that has plenty to say. Every song is an inventive, unique beast that contributes to an album so alive that is is almost breathing. The soft-rock element didn't quite go anywhere, but was instead, refined, perfected and given a nice set of fangs to keep the proceedings from being too safe.

Every aspect of the album is a little more intense and a little more vicious than what came before it. Chris Martin's British drawling still sounds the same but instead of coming across as melancholic, it leaves an impassioned almost exalting impact on the listener. Guitarist Jonny Buckland reveals himself to become quite the riff machine instead of just the guy who has to keep the distortion quiet enough so the audience can hear the piano.

Though not as conceptually sound as my favorite album of last year, Jay-Z's American Gangster, Viva La Vida is at the very least consistent. Many of the songs lyrics and melodies create the impression of a certain fall from grace. On the album's title track, Martin laments "I used to rule the world....now I sweep the streets that I used to own." And songs like "Lost!", "Violet Hill" and "Cemeteries of London" sound like a kind of morbid and hurtful nostalgia. It is track unity like this combined with the swirling symphonies that bookend the beginning and end of the show that makes this feel like a true ALBUM and not just a strong collection of songs.

Well done, Chris Martin and company. I can now write the sentence "the next U2" without it being ironic or absurd and millions of men across the world can safely like Coldplay without accusations of homosexuality.

Viva La Vida is that good.

1 comment:

Mr. Bojangles said...

right on man. Really good critique