To be honest, it's probably a sum of all those things, but the band's messy, overblown third album, X&Y, didn't help matters. After turning themselves into major league stars with their majestic sophomore effort, A Rush Of Blood To The Head, Coldplay seemed to start believing their own hype. Many tracks on X&Y tried too hard to tug at the world's heartstrings, resulting in a band that sounded cold and vacuous.
Thankfully, somebody's whispered some wise words in their ears since then because their follow-up, Viva La Vida, is their most accomplished work to date. It's out the window with verse-chorus-verse predictability and dreary lighter-waving ballads and in with, well, all sorts! The kitchen sink stadium rock of X&Y has been replaced by something far more colourful, subtle and, dare we say it, occasionally rather fun.
A prime example is 'Strawberry Swing', whose gorgeous, breezy melody sounds like it's been baked for hours in the African sun. The title track, meanwhile, with its jerky synth-string hook and triumphant vocals, should conquer radio playlists with the same ease as 'Yellow' and 'The Scientist'. When Coldplay do crank things up a notch, they do so with restraint and a newfound lightness of touch - presumably learned from Eno. The final track, 'Death And All His Friends', is a case in point. What could easily have been a soppy piano-driven whimper blossoms into a funky, clattering, fist-pumping finale that's a million miles from the unconvincing rock bluster of old.
Of course, there are a few moments where Coldplay veer towards their drizzly, yawn-inducing worst. 'Lost' is too obviously designed for a Wembley sing-a-long to be enjoyed fully, while 'Lovers In Japan' finds Martin scraping the lyrical barrel ("Runners, until the race is run, soldiers you've got to soldier on"). However, it's easy to forgive these mishaps when they're surrounded by dalliances into more intriguing waters, such as the screeching guitars and muffled falsetto of hidden track 'Chinese Sleep Chant'.
The album's centre-piece and most thrilling moment comes on '42', a song in four parts. It begins with Martin, sat at his piano, warbling about dead people in his head, before jerking into life with some Radiohead-style zigzagging guitars. Then, as if by magic, it morphs into a melodic pop gem, before finally returning to the haunting tremble of the intro. The result is an astounding tour de force that shows off Coldplay's best skill: the ability to merge chest-beating anthemic indie with a leftfield musical template.
Coldplay may never recover the innocence of their early EPs and debut album Parachutes, or outdo the commercial successes of X&Y and Rush of Blood, but if you like your stadium rock with a bit of fire in its belly, Viva probably tops the lot.