All albums come with baggage, but the debut - and presumably only - LP from Warrington’s Viola Beach comes with more than most. Fuck, I wish we didn’t have to even mention it. I wish we were reviewing this record as we would any hotly-tipped, bright-eyed young indie band. But art cannot exist outside of context, and the context here is, well, awful. On the the 13th of February this year the four members of Viola Beach and their manager died in an accident; their car falling through a gap in a bridge while on tour in Sweden. It is unutterably horrible, a tragedy for their families beyond what most of us will hopefully ever experience. The outpouring of grief and sympathy was immediate and moving, from former tourmates Blossoms opening shows by playing out a taped gig in full, to Coldplay playing the band’s ‘Boys That Sing’ during their Glastonbury headline set.
The four young men were barely minutes into their career and just starting to build a buzz. This self-titled collection comprises tracks recorded for a planned EP, bulked out with their two earlier singles and b-sides and a radio session. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to a proper album. Realistically it’s all we’ll have to weigh the potential of their career against.
It’s a weight this short record doesn’t deserve to be lumbered with. Despite the unavoidable, unbearable sadness of its context Viola Beach is best celebrated for its lightness. The band had a knack for bright melodies, sunny arrangements and chiming guitars. It’s very much a July album, full of the scents of summer. Musically there’s nods to Vampire Weekend’s spidery Africanisms but without their tendency to over-intellectualise; singer Kris Leonard channels a young Alex Turner in his Northern drawl, but with a more innocent, positive outlook. Northern they may be, but there’s none of the grumpiness or sour swagger that often infects bands from just up the road in Manchester. These boys are aiming at the indie disco and they’d rather you enjoyed yourself. The hooky, twitchy ‘Get To Dancing’ is self explanatory. The shimmer of ‘Really Wanna Call’ is practically tropical.
There’s hints of depth here too; ‘Call You Up’ is a fine ballad, capturing a yearning, lovelorn innocence in a tumble of words, while ‘Drunk’ is nagging, melancholy disco. ‘Boys That Sing’, the band’s final single, is brilliant indie pop with a huge chorus; something Chris Martin clearly recognised when he picked the song for Glastonbury, holding its own alongside Coldplay’s anthems.
Presumably the proper Viola Beach album, the one they never got to record, would have capitalised on these instincts and worked out some of their more naive kinks. We’ll never know. Instead we have this charming if slight collection, still worthy of your time, and not just to hear the aching, unfulfilled potential. “She said that together we can take on the world” goes the album’s final chorus. It’s certain that Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe and Jack Dakin, had they been given the chance, would have done just that.
7Marc Burrows's Score