Two million single downloads or not, a new Coldplay album is always a worrying prospect. Anyone who came of age to the plaintive thrum of ‘Yellow’ and ‘Don’t Panic’ nurtures a pained mistrust for the more recent stuff, signalling as it does a leap to the mainstream and subsequent loss of indigenous indie quality.
But when Chris Martin settles behind his piano and the first bars of ‘Clocks’ hit the Academy, something faintly wondrous occurs: half the audience starts wiping its eyes. You might expect it of ‘Fix You’ and even ‘Trouble’, but when piano-driven polit-rock engenders the love light, you know you’re onto something.
Following this are new tracks ‘Lost!’ and ’42’, which fit seamlessly into the mix, even when the fade-out is botched (“F**k, that’s the second time in two days.”) Martin’s geeky, grief-stricken voice, his gift for spotless melodies and the thoughts to fit them are there in every song. His personal relief is palpable: “You’re the most intelligent fans in the world,” he sighs at the end of ‘Strawberry Swing’.
The crush at the front causes at least one girl to faint – more from fizzy pop than Coldplay mania, admittedly – but when the man who’s tugged so many heartstrings leaps gleefully across the stage in sheer sonic abandon, there is more than a hint of adoration among his followers.
They’re a telling bunch, too: scenesters, emos and indies rubbing along in collective evangelism to the tunes we’ll all remember, regardless of our bands of choice. He may be the worry-wart of rock, he may draw on his hands and hump his piano, but these are the songs of our age, the closest thing to an acceptable mainstream, traversing that urban legendary space between the musical masses and artistic integrity.
Even Martin’s stage-spanning hopscotch clicks right into place, a spectacle it’s hard to watch without beaming (in much the same way as it would actually be really cool to be spat on by Liam Gallagher or given the thumbs-up by Paul McCartney). By the time confetti butterflies are cannoned into the sky, there isn’t a cynical eye in the house.
Somewhere in our Heat-weary hearts we prayed for an album of pared-down alternatives a la Parachutes, music which doesn’t lend itself so neatly to stadiums and mass sing-a-longs, but Viva La Vida is braver than those Barfly beginnings. Death themes or not, Martin has his sights on cultural immorality, and he’s going the right way about it.