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.