HE IS THE RESURRECTION “When we started this band, it was the result of looking back and finding the last great era of music — and that was Britpop,” says Viva Brother’s Leonard Newell (left).
More than a decade after its demise at the shaky hands of third-wave acts such as Embrace, Gay Dad, and theaudience, the Britpop revolution of the mid-'90s is in a weird holding pattern. Defining acts Suede, Pulp, and Blur were washed away rather quickly, ushering in a new turn-of-the-century English pop landscape of overblown piano balladry (Coldplay, Travis, Keane) and spiky one-shot post-punk revivalists (Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand). The current UK indie-rock scene is a dull hodgepodge of cluttered beats and riffs (Two Door Cinema Club, Friendly Fires) and, despite the never-ending quarrels of Oasis's Gallagher brothers, Damon Albarn's Gorillaz hip-hop cartoon crusade, and sudden Pulp and Suede resurrections in the summer festival circuit, Britpop feels as dead as when This Is Hardcore eulogized it in 1998.
Or is it? Earlier this year the NME championed a return of British guitar rock, citing the Vaccines and Viva Brother as two bands putting that ol' Britpop swagger back in music. Although it'd be easy to dismiss Viva Brother as cheeky Britpop revivalists, the four lads from Slough — a scrappy-but-yawning industrial town west of London where the British version of The Office was set — create boastful, anthemic, aggrandizing British pub rock that could make you wonder whether Oasis's aughts catalogue ever happened. Hell, even the guitar bridge of debut single "Darling Buds Of May" seems lifted off the 'Sis' finest B-side, "Acquiesce."
"When we started this band, it was the result of looking back and finding the last great era of music — and that was Britpop," says cool and confident singer/guitarist Leonard "Lee" Newell on the phone from the UK.
It's a tall order, but Viva Brother's sound is certainly a throwback to 1995, when London's mod-savvy and unruly Camden district was ground zero for the Cool Britannia scene, and lad mags like Select and Melody Maker were crafting overnight stars of Menswe@r, Sleeper, and Gene. But 2011's global mood is far more grim, and Slough is no party town. So Newell coined a label for Viva Brother's sound that reflects this societal evolution: "Gritpop."
"Things are a lot harder now," Newell says. "But we don't want it to be something people focus on. We are a result of wanting to get out; our songs reflect that escapism. We can sense Armageddon is coming, but might as well put the skin cream on and read the morning paper."
Viva Brother's Stephen Street–produced debut record, Famous First Words (Geffen), is bubbling with a celebratory, on-the-piss bloke-rock arrogance rarely seen in the aughts. On stage the lads employ the soulful backing vocals of Grace Barrett, which has the effect of more-than-slightly recalling Rowetta Idah's early-'90s work with Happy Mondays. "We want to write a 'Common People' or a 'Country House,' " Newell says. Viva Brother may never get to the level of a Pulp or a Blur, respectively, but hey, the ambition is commendable in the age of the anti-star.