“Not actively terrible” … Viva Brother’s Famous First Words
On the cover of their debut album, the members of Viva Brother stare out from photographs hung in a barbershop window. A cynical voice might suggest that’s fitting, given that photographs hung in barbershop windows are usually about 20 years out of date. Viva Brother, after all, proudly cleave to the 1990s for inspiration. The occasionally angular guitar riffs and falsetto vocals are borrowed from Blur, while the attitude and vocal mannerisms come via Oasis. The words sometimes aim for the observational vignettes of the former, but invariably end up causing you to beg their pardon in the manner of prime-time Noel: “It takes a moron to know one and he knows me,” sings Lee Newell, a man who’s either boldly written a song suggesting he’s a moron or hasn’t checked the exact meaning of his lyrics.
Cynical voices are not hard to find where Viva Brother are concerned. Six months ago, they were Brother, signed for a rumoured quarter of a million, given to telling interviewers they were the saviours of rock’n’roll and authors of “the best songs of the last 20 years”.
Almost immediately, things started to go wrong. It emerged Brother had previously been an emo band called first Kill the Arcade, then Wolf Am I. Their songs were called things such as Arabella, You’re a Lost Soul, their lyrics suggested Lee Newell was himself a tormented soul: “You brought me into this selfish so-called ‘life’,” opened Kill the Arcade’s Navigators Start Navigating: shut up MUM, I didn’t ASK to be BORN. Perhaps his anguish has been alleviated by writing the best songs of the last 20 years.
In fairness, every band is entitled to change style: except, of course, in the world of lad rock, where musical change of any kind is viewed suspiciously, as evidence of unbearable pretention and, possibly, latent homosexuality. Bad news for Viva Brother, who had set their sights very firmly on the lad rock market when they told the NME: “It’s time for a proper band with some bollocks.”
None of their three singles, though, have charted. Maybe that has to do with the recent decline in fortunes for lad rock: certainly the fans who dutifully sent any old cobblers by Oasis into the top 10 declined to send Beady Eye’s last single any higher than No 64. Or maybe it was the singles themselves. They weren’t bad as such – New Year’s Day’s falsetto hook sinks into you whether you want it to or not; the chorus of The Darling Buds of May spins off at an interesting melodic tangent, and if you’re going to mimic the riffs of a 90s indie guitarist it might as well be Graham Coxon, rather than, say, Bonehead from Oasis. But listening to them again on Famous First Words, it’s clear they bear no more resemblance to the best songs of the last 20 years than to the national anthem of Uganda.
In a final indignity, Brother were forced to change their name to Viva Brother after legal action from an identically named Australian band. By now, things were beginning to take on a slightly tragicomic slant, a feeling somehow compounded by the fact that the other Brother are a self-styled “powerhouse Celtic trio”, who feature a member called DigeriDrew and were recently spotted “fusing the deep pulse of the digeridoo with the soaring heights of the bagpipes” on something called The Tribal Thunder of the Carribean Cruise (“the drum circles and the crazy dancing at the pool area are going to be something special!”).
And so it is that Viva Brother’s debut album arrives heralded not by hyperventilating reviews confirming the arrival of the saviours of rock’n’roll but a piece in music industry newsletter Record of the Day denying rumours that the band have already been dropped. On one level, it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for them, gobby architects of their own downfall though they are. Like the singles, the rest of Famous First Words isn’t actively terrible. Viva Brother haven’t got a new idea in their heads – as every song fades out, you somehow imagine the theme music from TFI Friday fading in – but High Street Low Lives and Fly By Nights are competently done and pretty vigorous, if never coming close to the thuggish power of early Oasis, with their Sex Pistols-inspired wall of guitars.
The problem is, even if you were in nappies when football was held to be coming home, you’ve heard it all done better before. There’s been no punk-like schism since Britpop, which means that the music Viva Brother have chosen to copy is still omnipresent: in 2011, you still hear Parklife and Wonderwall all the time. As Famous First Words plays, it’s impossible to stop craving something, anything, a bit more original, up to and including a fusion of the deep pulse of the digeridoo with the soaring heights of the bagpipes. That’s certainly an achievement, but not, you suspect, the one Viva Brother were aiming for.
VIVA BROTHER – FAMOUS FIRST WORDS
released 01 August , 2011
1 / NEW YEARS DAY
2 / STILL HERE
3 / DAVID
4 / HIGH STREET LOW LIVES
5 / DARLING BUDS OF MAY
6 / ELECTRIC DFAYDREAM
7 / OTHERSIDE
8 / FLY BY NIGHTS
9 / FALSE ALARM
10 / TIME MACHINE
Viva Brother: Famous First Words
Released 1st August 2011 through Geffen Records
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