Working with Brian Eno for the first time gave Coldplay the same reaction as Dorothy exiting her black & white Kansas and emerging into the Technicolor world of Oz. That's what Eno does--he brings you to Oz.
Most of the great producers have their schticks. Rick Rubin likes to bring things back to basics and distill artists to their core essences of greatness. Spector loved his Wall of Sound, but even more importantly, he liked creating something huge and cacophonous for great vocalists to soar over. With Eno, everything does the soaring.
I believe without exception, every major rock artist to team with Eno has done the best work of their career under his tutelage. Bowie had his Berlin Trilogy (Low, "Heroes," and Lodger), Talking Heads released a three year trio of great albums that culminated in Remain In Light, which might be the best album of the '80s, and U2 emerged out of their early great-but-limiting post-punk style to change the entire industry twice with Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. All of these artists were great before they met Brian Eno, there's no disputing that. But "Great" has degrees, and Eno helped them all tap into a higher power. He's music's Phil Jackson--the coach lucky enough to mentor the best, but the coach the best trust will bring out their best.
It's hard to say who Coldplay were prior to Viva La Vida. Their first album was a good post-Britpop album, their second album was phenomenal, and their third album was one of the most disappointing artistic stagnations in recent memory, something so worrisome that it questioned whether they'd ever matter again. Cue Eno.
I love that Viva La Vida had the audacity to open with an instrumental, and I love even more that it's called "Life In Technicolor." It's the moment in a movie where you eschew dialogue and let the lushness of the cinematography do the talking. Just shut up and bask in the beauty.
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