Slough, once renowned as the home of Ricky Gervais’ planet-humping comedy skit, was – back in 2011 – offered a way out of geographical abuse and the comedy punchline via the four-piece ‘grit-pop’ (I feel you cringe, don’t worry) group, Viva Brother – formerly known as just ‘Brother’. Due to a topsy-turvy time in the press, the band, who were once bound for the stars and planets above, spat out their dummies and called it a day shortly after the release of their debut album, Famous First Words. After being celebrated by the likes of the NME for being the saviour (ugh!) of guitar rock (wince), the band were quickly thwarted and cut down, admittedly, this felt somewhat unsavoury on behalf of the music press and slightly undeserved. Famous First Words certainly wasn’t famous, it was never going to cause a cultural landslide like the NME once predicted, but it did hold its few merits. ‘Time Machine’ was a lashing of rollercoaster guitar riffs, ‘New Year’s Day’ did, and still does, hold its own when it comes to self-assured hooks, and ‘Darling Buds Of May’ can probably still generate a bit of fuss in a live encounter. The band certainly dug their own graves with their ‘oi-oi, lad-lad’ attitudes though, and therefore nobody really cared or showed much sympathy when they collapsed off the face of the earth.
I think I can speak on behalf of a significant proportion of music fans, that the return of Viva Brother was at least slightly surprising. They left music in the spring of 2012 and seemed to be in such a huff about how their debut album had been panned, that any return to the indie-rock scene, no matter in what form, felt slightly far-fetched. Their media and music press lamenting ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Loved’ sneaked out as they drew the curtains on their initial career outing and, at the time, this certainly felt like their most ‘serious’ and self-conscious release to date; arguably their best too (not that their best was that great).
II struggles though. It sticks to the same clichés that their debut produced, and it works along the same monotonous roads, it’s anything but groundbreaking – but what it does is show that the band are simply alright, and barely that. I don’t think anybody expected anything huge from this album, and I certainly don’t quite understand the band’s reasoning to reform and produce again but, for the few nuggets of intrigue on II, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that they came back to try and appear slightly maturer than their initial tantrum suggested.
The chance of Viva Brother resuscitating Cool Britannia is still very, very unrealistic; and any suggestion the band might reignite youth culture once more is merely the comments and thoughts of a maniac. Highlights on the album do exist though, ’A Little Soul’ twists around basic chord progressions but the chorus carries a bit of grit and a glimpse of feeling, catching Lee Newell’s slightly coarser vocals, while ‘Bad Blood’ does similar as the band tick off their only real selling point – a good hook. ‘Womankind’ is reminiscent of The Dandy Warhols’ better moments and ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Loved’ still remains to be seen as one of the band’s highlights.
There’s something slightly disconcerting about Viva Brother’s return to the fray though, and ultimately this is evidenced in much of their musical output on II. Initially, Brother were formed from the ashes of previous music dreams when they were bearers of thick emo fringes and studded belts in Kill the Arcade and Wolf Am I but, once that dream failed, why not shoot for the stars of, you know, one of Britain’s biggest musical and cultural flagships, Oasis. Yep, let’s shout about how we are the next Oasis and then we will attain the fame and riches we promised ourselves first time round. The cynical side of me accuses Viva Brother’s incessant narcissism as the reason for their return and, musically, I feel this concern becomes further justified.
‘Bastardo’ is simply nothing more than woeful, pegged around abysmal lyrics: “Follow me down / To a place where / Nobody has dared to go / And you can fly there / And I can direct / I know the way just take it slow”, irritating melodies and a tacky bitter taste of over-production. ‘The Black Pig’ further suggests that the band have little more to say musically and, lyrically than they did on their first outing in 2011 – I can’t even bring myself to type the lyrics to ‘The Black Pig’ which are about not falling in love with drugs and rather falling in love with ‘you’ without wanting my kitchen floor to open up and send me down into the rat-infested pits of north London. ‘Silver Silk’ shows a little more promise, until you stop ignoring the fact it directly mimics not just Viva Brother’s other, and perhaps more talented counterpart, SULK, but an entire flock of 90s British shoegaze bands who have subsequently been copied countless times in the last five years without Newell trying to do the same again.
If all that wasn’t enough, you can find a further trail of atrocity towards the album’s tail end – I present ‘Alive and Unwell’, anything but anthemic or the saviour of guitar music; and certainly proof in the pudding that none of the boys possess a vocabulary wider than 50 words.
II ultimately brings around a similar bite of lacklustre jingle-jangle indie from Slough’s favourite four-piece, instead of directly plundering the 60s for their gold, the band turn their head to the 90s – in particular it feels like Blur’s Parklife is chiselled for its gold, from the Alex James-tastic ‘Brainchild’ to the Coxon solo of ‘Rose’. Ultimately, II shows that Viva Brother are about as devoid of hunger, sex and passion as my gran. It’s another pallid and anaemic attempt at stitching together fame through a full length album. How quick can we pull the curtain down on this to ensure a third attempt isn’t drummed up?