Editor’s Letter, Issue 11 – “I Used to Rule the World” and why Viva La Vida is the Best Album of all Time

Dear readers,

It’s time. You are now reading the penultimate issue of my tenuous Gryphon editorship. After you all return from Easter, fresh-faced from dissertation hell and ready for exam season, there will only be one more opportunity for me to expose the University’s deepest, darkest and most deplorable secrets (as soon as I manage to find them, that is). But do not weep, my child, for the night is always darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.

In these confusing times of political uncertainty, it’s time for me to publish an article that, throughout my five years of writing for and editing at The Gryphon, I have never been allowed to write. Under the dictatorial regime of my predecessor, Reece Parker, creativity was substituted for hard-hitting exposés on the Stevenage housing market. But those bleak days are over. Now I’m in the driving seat, and I will not be silenced.

As a music lover, music maker and music journalist, what follows is borderline career suicide. What follows is the political equivalent of rounding the German goalkeeper in the dying moments of the World Cup final and deciding to call for a second referendum instead of slotting the ball into the empty net and bringing the Jules Rimet home to British shores. What follows may upset you, it may anger you, but here it is nonetheless: this is why Coldplay’s Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends is the greatest studio album ever recorded.

Released in the summer of 2008, Viva La Vida marked a distinctive sonic diversion from the synth-heavy sounds of Coldplay’s previous album, X&Y, released three years earlier. The whining ballads were replaced with creative melodies and inventive beats; the boring black outfits with unique, military-inspired garments; the uninspiring concert venues with arenas of kaleidoscopic colour and graffiti that transformed Coldplay into one of the world’s most immersive live acts. Suddenly, against all better instincts, Coldplay were cool.

And all because of Viva La Vida. There is not a single weak track on the 42 minute-long album, no ‘fillers’ or pretentious intermissions. Each song is constructed with a care and quality, meaning they’re just as strong as a collective as they are as individual compositions. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I listened to this album on repeat for the entirety of summer 2008 and that, to this day, it is still growing on me. Robinson’s squash lost its taste after a while; Chicago Town pizzas turned to ash in my mouth after eating them for my whole childhood; even the thrill of consistently beating Reece Parker by five goals on FIFA became a hollow victory. As Cheryl Cole once said, “too much of anything will make you sick.” Clearly, she’d never listened to Viva La Vida.

The uplifting instrumental melody of opening track ‘Life in Technicolor’ is the first of many indicators that you’re listening to a snippet of musical history. The orchestral strings of ‘Viva La Vida’, the unconventional drums of ‘Lost’, the sudden tempo change of ‘42’ and, of course, the clanging piano which reigns throughout, especially in ‘Lovers in Japan’ – Viva La Vida is a masterclass in production from start to finish. Although Chris Martin took the plaudits for finding a new register to his vocal range in ‘Yes’, it is the utter sanctity of the ever-present backing vocals which sustain the album throughout. 

Speaking of sanctity, the album’s lyrics allude to something greater than just your classic tropes of love and loss, but to life itself. More abstract than the band’s previous lyrics, Viva La Vida has both the political awareness of “when the future’s architectured / by a carnival of idiots on show / you better lie low” and the romantic beauty of “people moving all the time / inside a perfectly straight line / don’t you wanna just curve away?”, as well as the utter genius of “no, I don’t want a battle from beginning to end / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge / I don’t wanna follow Death and all of his friends.” In the circle of horrific violence that the world seems to find itself in nowadays, these words never fail to feel relevant.

And then, to top it all off, you have ‘Strawberry Swing’, perhaps the greatest song ever written. With its idyllic guitar riff, the song fits any mood you’re in; happy, sad, nostalgic, hyped, hungry, horny – it will feel like the first ever time you’ve felt those feelings when you’ve got ‘Strawberry Swing’ on in the background. A tiny spark of magic within an all-round masterclass, this is the song I want to die in tribal battle to.

Since Viva La Vida’s release, Coldplay have gone from the ‘2 for £10’ bin at HMV to the half time Super Bowl show. Yes, they may have lost their way in recent years, prioritising unfulfilling lyrics of love and unity over coming up with new and inventive means of conveying those messages through their music. But nothing can change what they achieved with Viva La Vida: utter perfection; the desert island disc to end all desert Island discs; the end credit scene to the secret boss-level showdown hidden within the coding of the MarioKart level you never finished.

I understand that, in my eight months as Editor of the Gryphon, this is quite possibly the most controversial thing I have published, and I’m not sure whether that is a testament to my journalistic integrity or to my imperious (some would say ‘poor’) music taste. However, like Viva La Vida, we all need to push a few boundaries once in a while. What’s life without a little excitement?

Oh, and while we’re at it, ‘Christmas Lights’ is the greatest Christmas song as well, so there’s that too.

Stay classy,

Robbie Cairns