Well, as doctors do, let’s start with the marginally more positive prognosis, eh? We all knew this day was coming, so let’s not prolong the agony any longer…
With the NME office having been subjected to its various, um, charms since February or so, a long hard think led to our Emily Mackay girding her loins to give Viva Brother’s debut a kind 5/10. Searching for silver linings, Mackay praises ‘New Year’s Day’ for its “Blur-toned riffs as bright and shiny as a button”, but goes onto conclude that the record is “just flimsy”, and that the likelihood of the aforementioned song being wheeled out for Hogmanay 2011 is slim at best.
Although the ridiculous folly of ‘Famous First Words’ (dear gawd, that title) is entirely Viva Brother’s fault, many of the reviews of this album have expressed the feeling that the label execs are at fault for allowing their hubris to grow so monumentally – as here, where Emily writes, “It’s a shame…they’ve been allowed to get this far by a label that should have known they weren’t up to it.”
Slathering on similarly faint praise is The Fly’s Ben Homewood, who acknowledges the band’s divisive tendencies thus: “Some will have great nights out to these songs; others will throw up onto their Animal Collective t-shirts. Just remember, away from the hyperbole (and the abuse), Viva Brother are just a new band who have made a half decent debut album.” Definitely a quote for the sticker on the front of the album, that one. It’s 3/5 from Ben.
Digging for mere scraps of praise now, Jon Bye of Gigwise’s lukewarm take on the album calls it a “quite reasonably crafted outing”, but then gracefully concedes, “I admit to still neither knowing or caring what a ‘wonderwall’ is, but it meant something to a lot of people, much the same as most other bands of the era. It’s hard to see the same being the case for Viva Brother; the level of ‘on the dole’ cliché suggests their lyric books are mighty slim.” He’s given them 3/5 too.
Several reviews picked up on the incident whereby Brother had to change their name due to a legal threat from an Australian Celtic band of the same name, which has provided many an unfortunate titter at the Slough quartet’s expense. The Irish Independent’s John Meagher writes, “It sounds awful, but after being exposed to ‘Famous First Words’, I know which Brother I’d rather listen to.” There’s no rating on Meagher’s review, but one gets the impression it wouldn’t be too favourable. 3/5 no doubt.
The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis really sticks the knife in over the name change, writing, “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.” He’s given it a rather generous 2/5, noting that although it isn’t “actively terrible”, the songs here “bear no more resemblance to the best songs of the last 20 years than to the national anthem of Uganda.”
Shall we keep going? I feel like we’re kicking puppies here. Music OMH’s Martin Headon slams ‘Darling Buds Of May”s chorus, “It is what it is” as “one of the most pointless hooks ever to grace a pop song” (2/5), Drowned In Sound’s Dom Gourlay gives the record 3/10, stating, “it’s a record that oozes predictability and little besides”, and the rather marvellously named Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of the Financial Times compares the record to “a boxer who talks the talk but walks into the first punch thrown his way”.
There’s a glimmer of light in Kitty Empire’s review for the Observer, where she notes, “There’s one quite good line in ‘Still Here’, a passive-aggressive love song: ‘At my funeral they’ll bury just my head in the sand“, but concludes that, “It all makes The Vaccines – the mildly successful great white guitar hopes of 2011, from the fringe’n’drainpipes side of the rock tracks – look original. Ultimately, ‘Famous First Words’ sets the cause of resurgent guitar rock back… ooh, a good 20 years.” Kitty awards it 1/5.
Let’s leave the last word, then, to Pitchfork, who surely stand for all “that American shit” that Brother so desperately claim to loathe. Hari Ashurst gives the record 2.9/10. Commenting on Viva Brother’s nonsensical lyrics – “I met the mermaid and I showed her just how to run” from ‘False Alarm’ – he writes, “Those kind of ideas come across as an unintentionally hilarious attempt to out-stupid Oasis at their most obtuse, but even the Gallaghers had enough sense to qualify their non-sequiturs with lines about getting high. Also, at least somebody in ‘Champagne Supernova’ was having fun, because let’s be clear– nobody on this record is having fun, not you the listener nor any member of Viva Brother.”
Well then. I’d say that little lot makes for a fairly steaming great turd atop Viva Brother’s plans for world domination, don’t you? Personally, I think they deserve every word of it (apart from the mildly kind ones), and can only think of one album that I’ve hated more this year – but now, over to you. Did Viva Brother get the kicking they deserved, or are they a bunch of misunderstood poor souls? Reckon they’ll ever be allowed to make another album? Leave your thoughts in the comments.