I’ve personally enjoyed watching Coldplay‘s style and musicianship morph and develop with each of their albums.  2000’s “Parachutes” had a raw, understated feel to it.  2002’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” could probably be considered their break-out album, with radio hits like “The Scientist”, “In My Place”, and “Politik”.  I was slightly disappointed with 2005’s “X&Y”, which was catchy and certainly crowd-pleasing, but a little predictable.

Enter “Viva la Vida”, in my opinion their best effort yet.  It took me some time to get used to it, which is usually a sign of an eventual favorite album for me.  We downloaded it from iTunes in July, and it wasn’t until a bunch of repeat listens on our vacation in August for me to realize that this album is incredible.

“Viva la Vida” manages to incorporate a great variety of moods and textures without seeming schizophrenic or indecisive.  The bright optimism of “Life In Technicolor”, the dark, aggressive “Cemeteries of London”, the sonic hugeness of “Lost!” (and it’s stripped-down piano-led counterpart “Lost?”), the brooding, in-your-face quality of “Violet Hill”, and the lighter-than-air “Strawberry Swing” are all tied beautifully together.

Coldplay also tactfully borrows from Asian musical traditions, using a Middle East-esque hammered dulcimer in “Life in Technicolor”, seductive Arabic-flavored strings in “Yes”, and an East Asian pentatonic theme in “Strawberry Swing.”  This diverse, world music feel seems to work well, particularly with the album’s peace-oriented political messages.  (“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.”)

I love moments during an first-time listen to album when I’m caught completely off-guard.  There are many such moments on “Viva la Vida”, where you see that Coldplay has taken a significant risk, and then realize the brilliance of the album because they’ve gotten away with it.  I always feel a little let down when I realize that an album was written and produced for the main purpose of cranking out radio singles and filling arenas.  Not so with “Viva la Vida”.  While I’m sure it will have mainstream commercial success, this album stands out.  Coldplay has outdone themselves.

Go.  Buy.  It.  Now.