It’s somewhat surprising that Vinnie Caruana is only just getting around to releasing his debut solo album. Fronting two great punk bands in the forms of The Movielife and I Am The Avalanche has proved he’s got more than enough musical clout, and though his first attempt at recorded solo material, 2013’s EP City By The Sea, felt more like testing the waters than anything really incredible, the signs of something good were still there. Three years later, that potential has finally been realised with Survivor’s Guilt, Vinnie’s debut full-length, and an absolutely stormer of an album.
Where City By The Sea was more plaintive and acoustically driven, Survivor’s Guilt is a fuller, more dimensioned work. And while from that initial description it doesn’t seem too far removed from the typical ‘punk frontman goes solo singer’ template, there’s far more depth present here. Not factoring in the false start of Burn It Down which draws a bit too liberally from Frank Turner’s playbook, Survivor’s Guilt is a versatile, surprisingly deep album that makes up for its lack of cohesion with genuinely fantastic songs. The title track rings heavy with grit and emotion while swelling in its great acoustic and electric combination, while Gem Street’s rough-hewn chorus packs in some real bounce.
Perhaps the best thing about Survivor’s Guilt is how consciously distanced from any of Vinnie’s other works it is. While the likes of Heavy Weighs The Summer and I Don’t Believe You could easily be repurposed as anything from an upcoming I Am The Avalanche or The Movielife album, there are a clutch of songs on this album that stand completely on their own, painting Vinnie as one of the most interesting of the punk-goes-solo crop. Angel Of The North slithers by with a subdued, heartfelt hook buoyed by hollow keys and some admittedly hit-or-miss lyrics (though they’re fairly easy to ignore), and Under My Side Of The Bed picks up with another great swell and red-raw passion, reminiscent of The Wonder Years’ more downbeat moments. It’s a world away from the regular serving of acoustic ballads, but that’s what makes it all the more compelling. Survivor’s Guilt adds a fresh layer of depth to a sound that more or less everyone thinks they’ve got sussed, and it really makes a difference.
The biggest curveball though, comes with final track Your Religion Is Killing Me. It’s a largely instrumental track with only pained, muffled screams pushed to the very back of the mix, and builds from gentle acoustic guitars and drums to thunderously overpowering waves of feedback and levelling electric grooves. It’s a particularly intense way to round the album off, miles away from anything else on offer here and even further from any sort of traditional fare.
Putting all the pieces together reveals just how much of an inspired decision that Survivor’s Guilt is. It’s a breath of fresh air in a typically stagnant scene, and one that puts Vinnie in good standing to become one of the go-to names in that certain group. But even judged on its own, Survivor’s Guilt still stands as an inventive and powerful album that deserves all of the plaudits it receives.
For fans of: Daytrader, The Wonder Years, The American Scene
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Survivor’s Guilt’ by Vinnie Caruana is released on 27th May on Big Scary Monsters.