Album Review: Viva Brother – ‘Famous First Words’

A disappointing, formulaic debut album

Sometimes there are things in this job you have to do that you really don’t want to, like taking the musical bin out or having the sick sonic family pet put down. If you’ve followed their story at all, to dislike the spirit of [a]Viva Brother[/a] is near impossible, at least unless you’re a joyless, knee-jerking moron.

We’re talking about a band who say things in interviews like, “People are afraid to write massive songs that’ll sound good on the radio. We’re self-elected to do that. We nominated ourselves because we had to”, and, “Don’t tortoises live for, like, 700,000 years or something? They must be fucking bored out of their minds.”

Unfortunately, while it’s hard not to love them, in many places on their debut it feels a lot less rewarding to actually listen to them. But let’s start, as they do, with the best bits. ‘New Year’s Day’, the opener, kicks the doors in with an irrepressible bounce and Blur-toned riffs as bright and shiny as a button.

If it doesn’t provide the trousers to all their mouth, it at least makes for a pair of gobby shorts. ‘Darling Buds Of May’ is a raw howl (well, a yap at least) of energy. But the rest… ‘Electric Daydream’, clearly meant as their ‘Champagne Supernova’, seriously lacks fizz. There’s no lyrical content here with lasting weight or worth much comment at all, unless you count “He makes a meal out of everything/But he’s never had me round for tea”.

It’s just flimsy. We can’t, for example, imagine anyone playing ‘New Year’s Day’ at even Hogmanay 2011, for all Brother’s addition of long life to their band name, while they’ll definitely still be playing [a]Pulp[/a]’s ‘Disco 2000’. ‘David’, almost exactly halfway between ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ and ‘Tracy Jacks’, is impossible to take seriously; it’s like the same exercise repeated over and over with different vowels twisted round Lee Newell’s mouth each time for variation.

And ‘exercise’ is the word. ‘Famous First Words’ sounds less like a manifesto, more like a misguided step-by-step guide. How To Revive British Guitar Music In Ten Easy Steps: 1) Lennon Shades. 2) Slag Everyone Off. 3) Big Anachronistic Bidding War. 4) Major Label Deal. 5) Met Bar Launch Gig. 6) Grandiose Claims. 7) Erase Your Past. 8) ‘Hit’ America. 9) Talk About How Everyone’s Pigeonholed You Wrong. 10) Stephen Street.

Every song sounds as if it has been written to a formula for greatness excitedly, adorably scrawled on the back of a beer mat in the Third-To-Last-Chance Saloon. And when [a]The Vaccines[/a], [a]Bombay Bicycle Club[/a] and [a]The Horrors[/a] are storming the charts just by, y’know, writing good songs, you might question who it is we need saving from here.

Still, [a]Viva Brother[/a] should have been our champions against those who sneer about ‘beer-swilling lads’ as if they’ve never swilled themselves, and fail to grasp that rock’n’roll should be as much about booze, obviousness, sex, shouting, raw hope and soppiness as it is about self-conscious, flamboyant smarts.

It’s just a shame that they kind of forget the second bit and they’ve been allowed to get this far by a label that should have known they weren’t up to it. Part of me still hopes I’m terribly wrong, and that two years from now, [a]Viva Brother[/a] are headlining Glastonbury, and bellowing shite about tortoises over an adoring crowd before retiring to Electric Daydream Heights to party like they’re in the video for ‘Country House’ and laugh about that NME review of their first album. On the strength of this, though, nah, sorry.

Emily Mackay