Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A Pair Of DIYs From Messrs. Viola And McCartney


Mike Viola's 2018 release "The American Egypt" was one of my favorites of that year. It was a record that, quite literally, left me speechless. Everything about it--the lyrics, the offbeat arrangements, the beautiful melodies--made my jaw drop. 18 months later and I find myself feeling the same regarding Viola's just released full length, "Godmuffin."

The songs and arrangements are a bit more conventional than those on "The American Egypt," but if this is not quite a far cry from the jangly powerpop found on earlier Viola/Candy Butchers records, it is at least a healthy walk. Yes there are guitars and drums and background vocals. There are verses and choruses. But the record feels very deliberately melancholy, almost hymn-like. But don't let that frighten you. This is not a new age record. It's just that "Godmuffin" has some of the most heartbreaking and heartfelt pop tunes I've heard in a while.

This album is a true solo affair. It begins with a mid-tempo track called "USA Up All Night," that at first, has a vibe not unlike Petty's "Free Fallin'," but in the end, is pure Mike Viola. The record continues at the same pace with "Creeper," the first song released some months back, and a tribute to Fountains Of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger who we lost very early on to COVID.





"Godmuffin" is full of lovely melodies and absolutely killer earworms, but none as lovely or as moving as "We May Never Be This Young Again." It had me at the opening seconds with its nod to doo wop legends, The Flamingos. It is an absolutely brilliant touch.





Side Two opens with the hauntingly beautiful epic, "Superkid II, Trying To Do The Thing I Thought I Was Born To Do," a slowburning piano confessional that should shake even the most stoic listener. In many ways, Side Two reminds me of Paul McCartney when Macca is left to his own devices.

Viola himself describes "Godmuffin" as "11 songs about transformation. It's human. Only the dead get to heaven. Here on Earth, we just get lost."

It would behoove you to pay attention to the lyrics, if that is something you don't usually do. You'll be rewarded with lines like "The father in me is dying to come home, while the child is still dying to be free." That one, in the context of the song, did me in. And I don't even own a kid!

I think we can all relate to some, maybe even a lot of "Godmuffin." This record is a beauty, and if I wasn't such a lazy bastard, I'd revise the Top 5 of my year-end post and knock something out to make room for this.  But, I'm calling it here. "Godmuffin" is one of the very best of the year.


And speaking of Sir Paul...

It feels like the last time there was this much hype surrounding Paul McCartney was when The Beatles landed in America in 1964. And I imagine that this record, just like every McCartney record, will divide the diehard Beatles disciples who will call it a masterpiece and the jaded fairweather fans who haven't liked a record since "Band On The Run." Let's not forget the rock critics who, so far, have not been shy with their raves. I'll do my best to play it straight.

I've given "McCartney III," the new solo record from Paul McCartney, three passes. I've felt differently each time, with the last two faring better than the intitial spin. I really do like this record. And I do believe I will end up loving it.

In my fantasy world, a solo record from a Beatle who will soon turn 80, would be filled with acoustic music reminiscent of "Blackbird," "Mother Nature's Son," "Jenny Wren" and "Heart Of The Country." And while there are no cringemaking stabs at staying current, "M3" is more than just Paul and a guitar. But you knew that it would be.

The record does indeed sound like solo records I and II, as well as a bit of "Ram" and "Wild Life," all wrapped up in one. The opener, "Long Tailed Winter Bird," a mostly instrumental thing that is not really a song so much as an idea, actually knocked me out. As someone else said, and I am paraphrasing, it feels like Paul gave himself a lot more room to breathe without trying so hard to create a hit. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I found the song mesmerizing in the best ways.

"Find My Way" and "Lavatory Lil" would not sound out of place on Side Two of "Abbey Road" or "The White Album," which is not to say these songs rival any Lennon/McCartney tune, but they work, with the latter far better than its title might suggest. And with the exception of "Deep Down," a dull and repetitive groove that goes nowhere, Side Two is full of some truly memorable Macca songs, especially the album closer, a simple beauty called "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes" which comes the closest to my fantasy acoustic Macca record.

As I mentioned above, the first pass of "M3" did little for me, but I imagine it had a lot to do with the hype, as well as what I had set up in my mind, which was not what I immediately heard. But during the next two visits, I heard an aging Beatle who still has the ability to write a fantastic pop tune, and though his voice is weathered, can still deliver a phrase like no other. "McCartney III" is a worthy addition to a stellar solo catalogue. For my purposes, it is not quite as amazing as "McCartney," but a lot more accessible than "McCartney II." Plus, I'm really feeling it, like it's a grower. And if you need more than that from a man who has given us as much as Paul has in 60 years, maybe you're just being cranky.

I am comfortable adding "McCartney III" to my faves of 2020, somewhere in the lower 18. 

Mike Viola and Paul McCartney, brothers from other mothers doing it for themselves, and two records that I think, have a lot more in common than just being solo albums.

More please.


cmealha said...

I've been following Mike Viola ever since you turned me on to the first Candy Butchers album. He's a pop master who never disappoints and this new one gives proof of that. He continues the themes from his last one, American Egypt, with beautiful melodies and heartfelt lyrics. His well-traveled voice only adds to the wariness, weariness, and wonderment of the album. Definitely in my Top 10 of the year and "We May Never Be This Young Again" is the killer track.

I've been looking forward to the McCartney album for quite some time and was expecting a laid back endeavor given the pre-release comparisons to I and II and also Paul's age. I was amazed to hear so many ballsy and nasty cuts like "Sliding'" and "Lavatory Lil" alongside the expected "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes" type tunes. And the sound is immaculate. It's not the best thing he's ever done but still satisfying to hear a master still doing what he loves to do instead of resting on his many laurels and sharing it with the rest of us.

I tied both of these albums to the recent Springsteen release. The three of them are definitely geared towards an audience on the other side of mid-life. Whereas Bruces' effort has a nostalgic bent, Viola's is about being in the 4th quarter and wondering what the fuck happened and what are you going to do about the point deficit. On the other hand, Paul has finished the game, crushed the competition and is at the after party celebrating the win and enjoying whatever life has left to give him.

Anonymous said...

Sal, I had been a very casual Mike Viola fan for years, mainly Falling Into Place and some Candy Butchers stuff and most recently American Egypt. That was the case until one of your posts this past summer that mentioned Lurch, which I absolutely loved which lead me to hunt out everything else in his catalog. He has since been on heavy rotation in my music world (Thanks, Sal!).

I've heard/seen a couple of videos so far and love the ones you posted. My vinyl copy is currently in the USPS quicksand delivery system so I'm hoping to give myself a Mike Viola Christmas present this year.

What an extremely talented songwriter/performer.


A Walk In The Woods said...

You bring up something that's been true with me for many years.

I've noticed that if I LOVE a record on first listen, I rarely end up loving it for years and years.

But if I dislike a record at first - not because it's just bad, in which case it'll never grow on me - but if I dislike it but am still intrigued to listen again - those are the records I end up loving.


Because in the former case, that's a record that just fulfills exactly what I expected from it. It's an artist just sounding like themselves, and in the era they're in.

But in the latter case, again assuming the LP is just bad and I don't wish to return to it, those records stick with me because they bend my expectations and surprise me. Even just slightly.

(I'm not one of those who expects or wants "Artistic Reinvention!" from my favorite artists much. I do not need Van Morrison to go techno. BUT, when Todd Rundgren went techno on parts of "State" and then all of the "Global" tour (the one you hated, with the dancers and pre-recorded backing music, but that I loved) - that's when it sticks with me.)

Or even just a record that's mildly unexpected - still within an artist's normal universe, but with surprises - those are the ones I end up loving.

Brett Alan said...

I listened to McCartney III for the first time today, and I liked it. Standouts on first listen were "Find My Way" and "When Winter Comes". I'm always here for Paul stretching out and getting a little weird.

Michael Giltz said...

I am patiently waiting until dec 18 for Macca III. But I'd gladly wait twice as long for Sal's fantasy Macca acoustic gem album.

Mr. Baez said...

Like you Sal, I was caught up in the anticipated hype of the McCartney 3 lp. And indeed it took several listens to let its charm and artistry sink in. But it definitely does. The opening track,"Long Tailed Winter Bird,"sinks it's hook with the very first guitar note that comes through the speaker. It's a great little clarion call of a little riff. And there are many surprising moments throughout the entire album. Though several tracks may seem indulgent on first or second listens, the delight in hearing Macca stretch out and work a groove as he does on "Deep Deep Feeling" is engrossing. It's the kind of album that I enjoy much more than "Egypt Station." I liked it, but seem to be very calculated in its desire to be a hit record. M3 wants me to replay and learn more about it (similar to how I feel about "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard".) And I love how the album’s closer, “Winter Bird—When Winter Comes,” returns to the album’s opening guitar lick, just a splendid little McCartney frill, which he has done countless times and always makes me happy. It's a lovely sentiment of hope and healing, which we have heard from Paul before, but sounds a little different after the year that we have been through.

Sadly, like Randy, I'm a casual listener of Mike Viola's work. I know him from the Candy Butchers, but that's about it. I need to put him at the top of my list to educate myself about. As always, thank you for your keen perceptions.

neal t said...

weird both their 2018 releases have word Egypt in them. Joining what a dozen mainstream releases in Sir Paul's charting years with it in the title? :) I am about 3 listens in and the long song u hate is one that sticks out to me. will keep that in mine with my next listen. thanks again for hipping us 40 years on to all the greatness after "Coming Up" on MCII. happy holidays to all.

Sal Nunziato said...

@Neal T
I love the long tune. Similar title- Deep Deep Feeling. The shorter track, that bored me, is "Deep Down."


ken49 said...

I can't get beyond We May Never Be This Young Again. My god what a talent

Michael Giltz said...

Oh man, the III album closer "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes" is SUCH a joy. It is exactly what I too imagine for my ideal late McCartney acoustic gem. I'm actually very excited for the Rick Rubin/Paul doc where they listen to Beatles and Paul solo masters and rehearsals and isolate stuff and chat away about what makes them cool. Who wouldn't want to do that? But I sure wish Paul would go into the studio w Rick and -- as with george -- feel the need to impress the man. Paul would play "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes" and Rick would say, Now go home and write ten more songs which are as good as that. It's right up there with Egypt Station's I Don't Know, which I also never tire of hearing.

ken49 said...

Can anyone help me understand the video of We May Never Be This Young Again. I love the song but not so much the video, not sure what it is adding to viewing it.

Sal Nunziato said...

The video seems to be old footage of Mike---he's the first guy you see, in the Stetson--and his friends, back when they were "young." Might not be Fellini, but simply the author having a moment.
That's my take.

Anonymous said...

Sal, you summed up my initial reactions to McCartney III pretty perfectly. Definitely a grower--like, for me, Hey Clockface. Merry Christmas!

Bruce H