Monday, 15 August 2011

Viva Brother - Famous First Words - review


At some point last year Slough outfit Brother were bought to the attention of the music industry, as possibly "the saviours of British guitar music" who would kickstart a much-needed Britpop revival and blow away the commercial pop rubbish clogging up the charts every week. For a while it seemed that Brother may have just come about at the right time after Blur, Suede and Pulp all made successful comebacks and in the wake of Oasis' split maybe it left room for a 'new' Britpop band to revive a genre that represented a golden era for music. Also Brother seemed to have the bravado and the arrogance that helped make Oasis massive, declaring their material as "the best songs of the last 20 years" and identifying themselves as the group who could wrestle the charts from the grip of generic pop music. In a musical climate where a lot of critics sneer at the term 'Britpop', it's no wonder that Brother were ridiculed for their reputation as 1990's throwbacks. As well as none of their singles charting the band also suffered the misfortune of having to become Viva Brother after an Australian band threatened to sue them. Now the album is out and we can finally find out for sure whether this band are the future of British rock or not.

Perhaps it's the group's big talk and the promise that they'd be legends that makes their debut album 'Famous First Words' seem like a failure waiting to happen. Truth is this album isn't a bad record at all, just a disappointing one. It isn't the lack of originality that makes it bad, and it certainly isn't because they don't know how to write a good tune because a few tracks demonstrate that they clearly do. It's just that by comparing themselves to certain bands the band haven't done themselves any favours, and the songs fall flat once you realise they're not as good as Oasis or Blur.

Furthermore 'Famous Last Words' lacks the attitude and the energy that you would expect from a group who have hyped themselves up as much as Viva Brother have. However some of these songs still have a charm and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a band using Britpop as their main inspiration. Mind you the sound often has a lot more in common with some of the post-Britpop bands of the late 1990's (most notably Straw and sometimes Gay Dad) who attempted to brighten things up as many of the bigger bands were getting darker. Elsewhere Viva Brother's music bears far more of a resemblance to Menswear and Northern Uproar rather than the bigger Britpop acts, although the guitar solos do often recall Oasis at their peak and they do sometimes sound a bit like them when the singer shuts his mouth. The "oh-wah-oh"s on definite highlight 'New Year's Day' and the verses of 'Darling Buds Of May' serve as reminders of 'Great Escape'-era Blur. 'Still Here' is very much like Sleeper would've been like without a female vocalist, but with a chorus sung by a Liam wannabe. Quite often the singer sounds like he's doing an impression of the guy who used to sing in tribute band No Way Sis. There are many differences between Viva Brother and Oasis: the musical swagger is absent as are the instantly memorable anthemic choruses, in fact the only simularities are the very basic chords and the occasional rattle of a tambourine. Another highlight is 'Fly By Nights' which again has a very Sleeper-esque melody, but combined with more "la la la"s that could've been from Blur circa 1995. 'High Street Low Life' is a half successful attempt at aping Supergrass, while 'Electric Daydream' has the air of a Hurricane #1 B-side and 'Otherside' is like The Bluetones being urged by their record label to sound more like Oasis. Elsewhere Mansun provide the inspiration for 'David' as they also do on 'False Alarm' which also opens with a blantantly nicked riff from 'Shakermaker', has an utterly shit chorus but an enjoyable ending. It is great that this band are nostaligic about the glory days of Britpop but when they try too hard to re-create the sound it can sound like a very pale imitation at times.

The fact that even a huge Britpop nostalgist like myself can't enjoy most of this record does highlight its weaknesses. As someone who dreams about a Britpop revival, I should've really liked this album but it's just a tad too contrived at times. While these songs have the authentic Stephen Street production the songs themselves lack the vintage qualities and as a result this album fails to recreate the vibrant spirit of the mid 90's, instead sounding like a comical parody at times.

It's a shame because the album starts off so brightly and undoubtedly there is the odd good tune here and there, a couple in particular being very catchy. However none of them come anywhere near to being "the best songs of the last 20 years" and it's this approach of arrogance and big boasts that makes this album all the more underwhelming. If the group took a more subtle publicity style, stopped trying so hard, and toned down the desperate need for every song to sound like it could've been on a 'Shine' compilation, then perhaps next time they might produce something that sounds more natural, less derivative, more original and a lot less underwhelming. 6

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