As The Hives once said, hate to say I told you so. If you recall my post a few months back about the problem with Brother then firstly thanks for reading it, and secondly, it seems pretty much all of the reviewing world agrees with my initial appraisal of the Slough foursome.
I am perfectly aware that there are a whole bunch of people who will wholeheartedly disagree with the backlash against the band and I kind of get how they might be filling that Oasis-shaped hole in peoples’ lives. Let’s be honest here though: the Independent on Sunday put it best when they said that Famous First Words made Beady Eye sound like Let It Bleed.
As many commentators have pointed out, their downfall started early. Initially billed as ‘Slough’s Finest’ (which is a damning comment on Slough), the fourpiece signed an alleged quarter of a million pound contract with major label Geffen. Of course, the band were already having delusions of grandeur when frontman Lee Newell announced at a Met Bar gig ‘anyone who doesn’t want to hear the future of music, leave now.’ They erased their own past, hiding as best they could that they were once an emo band that revelled in ‘no-one loves me, leave me alone’ lyricism. Those lost lyrics could have had the potential to be much more emotional and heartfelt than the dribble Newell now sings. Oh and we can’t forget the rather unfortunate issue over their name: the band were forced to change Brother to the somewhat ironic Viva Brother after an Australian Celtic rock group challenged them.
To be fair, ‘New Year’s Day’ could sound a whole lot worse…
… But I’d rather stick Blur on. What Viva Brother seem to have forgotten is that people put Britpop’s time of death at the exact moment in 1997 when Be Here Now was released. Fourteen years down the line, people of all ages still listen to and enjoy the songs of the major four Britpop bands – Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp – and as a result of these continually being played, Viva Brother consequently sound derivative and unnecessary, a mediocre outfit that struggles against the songwriting power and genuinely good guitar skills of the bands that have stood the test of time.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of this whole unfortunate episode is the fact that Geffen even signed them in the first place. This is the label that brought us Nevermind, alongside other seminal rock albums. It is difficult to imagine what they were thinking: the only decent explanation was that after the demise of Oasis and the flop of Beady Eye, Geffen saw a “gap” (using “gap” tentatively, still with that 14-year Britpop gap in mind) in the market, and wanted to exploit it. This has been a very expensive flop though.
Let it be said that Viva Brother’s spectacular collapse into a sub-par abyss does not mean British guitar music is dead, as many would have you believe right now. Guitar music rarely makes it into the charts, but there is a long list of bands and artists who use guitars and make spectacular music that sounds fresh despite influences from the past, inclding: The Horrors, Wild Beasts, Anna Calvi, Yuck, Pulled Apart By Horses, The Chapman Family, Frankie and the Heartstrings, The Twilight Sad and Swimming. There are many more keeping guitar music alive, kicking and firmly in this century. I don’t think we really need Viva Brother.