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Coldplay

After three years between releases, Coldplay have returned with Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, in turn boosting EMI/Capitol Records' shares while reigniting debates worldwide over fruit-related baby names.

From 2000's piano-based, virgin-mopefest debut, Parachutes, to 2005's X&Y, Coldplay morphed into a bombastic, synth-heavy arena-rock group, like U2. For Viva, Coldplay enlisted Brian Eno, a frequent U2 producer, to push the band to new heights--or, more importantly, depths.

Not known for his verbosity, on Viva, lead singer and lyricist Chris Martin avoids the dime-store, self-help slogans that became borderline self-parody on X&Y. While paring back his ever-present falsetto, Martin digs lyrically deeper (and darker), touching on the universal themes of life, death, war and peace. Taking cues from Eno, the album even opens sans vocals with the soaring instrumental "Life in Technicolor," its tabla rhythms signaling a new direction for the band--only later to be revealed as a head-fake.

While church bells ring, organs grind and clap-along choruses pull believers from the pews on tunes "Lost!" and "Viva la Vida," Viva doesn't stray far from the Coldplay formula. Elsewhere, Martin takes another swing at Radiohead's OK Computer with "42," and three tracks inexplicably feature pairs of unrelated songs strung together as one, dual titles intact. Either Coldplay have found an iTunes twofer loophole, or Martin's been drinking too much of his own Kool-Aid, fancying himself a serious composer. When Wall Street keeps tabs on your recording schedule, these things will happen.

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