Little could Chris Martin have known when releasing his band's first album Parachutes back in 2000, that eight years later he'd be fronting one of the biggest bands on the planet. In the grand scheme of things, it's all happened quite quickly for Coldplay; perhaps rivalling only U2 as an across-the-board stadium rock draw, the quartet are now prestigious enough to attract esteemed uber-producers like Brian Eno to their enterprises.
Nonetheless, it's hard not to occasionally reminisce about those early days. Parachutes was a terrific debut album - a heady mixture of upbeat indie, and ballads with just the right amounts of melancholy. Its follow-up, A Rush of Blood to the Head, saw the quartet take a palpable leap towards stadium greatness, dismissing any notions that a moderate level of success would be satisfactory. 2005's X&Y sold ten million copies, for Christ's sake - if that didn't establish the Devon native and his cohorts as musical gargantuans, then nothing will.
Yet it appears that Coldplay - or at least their main songwriter, Martin - have already become a little weary with the formulaic 'epic' indie that they've churned out for their past two records. The irony with Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends lies in the fact that although it's a concerted effort to appear more mature and worldly-wise, at its heart, it's still largely the same garden-variety indie - this time, with more strings and quiet interludes.
One of Viva la Vida..'s biggest faux pas is that too many of the tracks here follow the same songwriting pattern: jaw-clenchingly sincere piano intros cascade into majestic, brow-furrowingly earnest guitar tracks all too often (Violet Hill, 42, Cemeteries of London), and the softer numbers (Reign of Love, Strawberry Swing) are just too wilfully contrived to inspire any genuine emotion.
That said, there is a brief respite in the title track: an upbeat, radio-friendly number that finally sees blood flow into the lifeless limbs of this album, Viva La Vida is the least-serious, most-marketable song on offer, its sharp, catchy string coda proving at least temporarily addictive.
Coldplay are an out-and-out stadium band - and while you can't hold that against them (or perhaps you can), you have to wonder if they themselves are happy about that fact. The sombre tone of this album, its dark, death-referencing lyrical content, and Martin's recent impetuous behaviour would suggest otherwise. Yet they're still not making necessarily bad albums - just very, very ordinary ones. This is no exception.