COLDPLAY Viva LaVida or Death and All His Friends (Helicon) Usually, you can tell when a decent band begins to get caught up in its own PR machinery and believes it's the greatest thing on Earth. Telltale signs - besides marrying beautiful movie stars and assigning babies weird names - include really long album titles and cover art featuring paintings from the Louvre. Despite Coldplay falling for all of those self-important traps, the band's music continues to rise above it, almost justifying the pomp and circumstance. Chris Martin and friends, masterfully abetted by "sonic landscape" artist Brian Eno, raise pop craftsmanship to a new level on Viva LaVida. Eno introduces some electronic elements in the rhythms to tracks like "Lost" and generally adds another layer of haze over the already ethereal music Coldplay has been inching closer to since emerging in 2002 as the next big hope for anthemic rock. The bouncy instrumental opener, "Life in Technicolor," might be the most concise "pop" moment of the album. It's one of the few instances featuring guitarist Jon Buckland, who is MIA most of the time, buried beneath the mix. And on the title song, full of beautiful melodies and orchestration, it's not even missed. Most of the material lends itself to this more expansive style, exemplified by the ambitious song suite on "42" - that even includes a "Paranoid Android" bit of prog rock. "Strawberry Swing" has some of that Edge-like atmospheric sound, courtesy of Eno's production, as does the understated closer "Death and All His Friends." While "Violet Hill" sees the band veering dangerously toward turning into a 21st century version of Supertramp, Coldplay's tendency to grandiosity is reined in most of the time, enabling the naturally strong melodies, which have always been the band's strong suit, to take the lead focus. Sure, they can come off as pompous lightweight art rockers, but there's a beating heart pumping away under the surface of Coldplay, and Viva LaVida exposes it in new and surprising ways. THE FEELING Join With Us (Helicon) This slick, young British quintet seems to love the eclectic '70s pop stylings of bands like 10cc and ELO. Join With Us, their second album, has made them sensations in their homeland, but it's hard to see what all the fuss is about. The best that can be said about their music is that it's clever - but clever without purpose and inspiration is no way to start a career. Most of the material, like the title song and the opener "I Thought It Was Over," sound like what a Broadway rock musical might offer in 1976 - full of blustery, melodramatic vocals, including wall-of-noise Queen-style harmonies and extraneous instrumental embellishments and arrangements. When they slow it down, like on the '50s-like ballad "Spare Me," the results aren't much better, with singer Dan Gillespie-Sells seemingly unable to sound sincere. Credit must be given to the band for trying to sound totally unlike the Franz Ferdinand clones clogging up the British scene, but their unabashed flamboyant intentions and overzealousness to be show tune entertainers instead of rockers mars whatever nice touches Join With Us might muster. After all, not everyone can be Freddie Mercury.