First of all, I know this post is totally subjective. The answer for each individual lies where their heart and musical ear is. In fact, I'm sure there are some who don't care for either Coldplay or Death Cab for Cutie. Since I've gotten that out of the way, I think I'll continue.
The reason for this post is because both Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends and Narrow Stairs were recently released in very close proximity to each other (date-wise that is) and I eagerly awaited each of their releases. In fact, Viva la Vida was just released in the U.S. yesterday, June 17, 2008. I've also given both albums a number of spins and ended up finding myself comparing them to each other and thought it might be worth sharing my thoughts on the matter.
Let's start with Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs. Narrow Stairs, the group's sixth full-length album (eight total albums), was released in the U.S. on May 13, 2008 and is the follow up album to their late-2005 album Plans. For those that don't know, Plans was Death Cab for Cutie's fifth full-length release, however it was their first major label album. This album is like a trek through a musical canyon. There seems to be a little something for everyone on here. While I am entranced by tracks such as I Will Possess Your Heart and The Ice Is Getting Thinner, I actually wake up and tap my toes on Long Division. Narrow Stairs won't disappoint you, it will inspire you to be more creative in whatever you're working on.
If you listen to Death Cab for Cutie for any length of time, you begin to realize they are constantly experimenting with sound. They proficiently use their voices as instruments, blending beautifully with the clean guitar picking and strumming, along with the modest drumming and occasional keyboards. Ben Gibbard, vocalist and guitarist, keeps you hanging on the end of each line waiting for the next word to drip from his lips into your ears. Their music has tended to be like layers of sheets and blankets on a bed, it wraps you up and keeps you warm and comfortable. If I had to pick only one word to describe Death Cab for Cutie, it might be "hypnotic." I don't think you'll find any mosh pits at a Death Cab concert, but I do think you'll find crowds of listeners gently bouncing their heads and swaying their bodies back and forth. I find myself reminiscing about New Order, Depeche Mode and other groups from my high school and college days.
Coldplay's fourth studio album is Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Led by Chris Martin, Coldplay continues it's reign on the charts with this most recent release. Within the first three days in the UK, the album sold over 300,000 copies debuting at #1. I don't know the numbers for the U.S. yet. Coldplay thought they would get cute by "hiding" tracks within tracks this time around. The track Yes has a hidden track titled Chinese Sleep Chant (appropriately named by the way). The track Death and All His Friends also has a hidden track titled The Escapist. One of my personal favorite's is Lovers in Japan (Acoustic Version) which apparently was only available if you pre-ordered the album on iTunes. Another "bonus" track for iTunes customers included "Lost?" not to be confused with "Lost!" of course. Cute.
While I do hear the influence of Bono and U2 on Coldplay's music, I don't think it's fair to U2 to be compared to Coldplay. U2 has, in my amateur opinion, a much more diverse sound and have experimented and pushed their music to many different realms over the years. In fact, they've even been criticized for it in the past. Whereas Coldplay seems to continue down one road, the same road, the comfortable road, the don't push the envelope road. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy listening to Coldplay, but feel as though they are beginning to follow a more formulaic approach to creating their music, the play-it-safe methodology. To be fair, Coldplay's formula works and it's extremely effective. In fact, I find myself needing a shot of Coldplay at least once a day.
Each album successfully creates layers of sound that seem to wrap around me, pulling me into the depths of musical waters. Both albums start off from silence and crawl out of the darkness with their distinctive sounds. Death Cab for Cutie begins Narrow Stairs with Bixby Canyon Bridge which slowly fades in as layers of instruments and voices are added. Coldplay begins Viva la Vida with Life in Technicolor which also slowly fades in as layers of instruments and voices are added. This is where the albums begin to take their different roads. Coldplay continues with their safe and comfortable approach throughtout the album, whereas Death Cab for Cutie signals and turns, taking you down a different musical neighborhood with each track. Coldplay will undoubtedly have several hits from their album, while Death Cab for Cutie will simply continue to grow their fan base, one album at a time.
I completely enjoy both albums, but if someone told me I could pick only one, it would have to be Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs. Sorry Coldplay.
What about you?