The old maxim goes that you have your whole life to write a debut album and six months to come up with a second one, but for Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe and Jack Dakin, that simply wasn’t long enough. Viola Beach’s lives – and that of their manager Craig Tarry – were cut tragically short before they could reach that first milestone. And while this posthumous patchwork of recordings, many of which were destined for a future EP, demanded a release and deserves to be celebrated, it’s tempered by the knowledge that this band were barely even getting started. ‘Viola Beach’ is not the debut album they would have made, but it’s the only legacy they’ll leave; you’re glad that it exists but, at the same time, you wish it didn’t have to.
Then you actually listen to it, and what you’re struck by isn’t the sadness of the story, or the potential that will go unfulfilled, but the energy and exuberance that so obviously went into making it. ‘Viola Beach’ is an album that, against all odds, leaves you with a smile on your face. Of course, that’s what early singles ‘Swings And Waterslides’ and ‘Boys That Sing’ did so well in the first place: Viola Beach were at a stage in their career where influences (in particular the elastic indie-funk of [a]Peace[/a] and [a]Two Door Cinema Club[/a] and melodic ebullience of [a]The Kooks[/a]) were still worn on their sleeves, but they possessed enough charm – and talent – to dispel any cynicism. Certainly this summer’s festival circuit already feels poorer for the absence of earworms-in-waiting like ‘Really Wanna Call’ and ‘Like A Fool’.
The exception is ‘Call You Up’, a winsome late-night lament that hints at hidden depths and a burgeoning songwriting maturity. We’ll never know what 19-year-old frontman Kris Leonard was working on at the time of his death, much less the songs he would have gone on to write had he lived, but ‘Call You Up’ may well be the best one that he left behind. Viola Beach’s name will always be synonymous with tragedy, but at least now we have a document of who this band were – and what they might have achieved.
- Record label: Fuller Beans Records
- Release date: 29 Jul, 2016