Hearts sank everywhere when the story of up-and-coming band Viola Beach’s demise broke. Not necessarily those of their fans, their genre or even music in general, but those who could relate to the lives of a group of young men starting to live out their dreams being cut so short – exactly what happened to the four band members and the manager. Gut-wrenching as hearing Viola Beach’s name may be, their legacy is starting to outshine the tragedy, with tributes by Coldplay and Blossoms shining the spotlight on the talent the four-piece had. It’s presumably why this, their posthumous debut album has been released – to hopefully replace the connotation of sadness with something more bittersweet.
It’s clear that the songs that make up Viola Beach were not intended for a debut full-length. They’re EP songs, maybe even just demos not originally destined to belong to a release in Viola Beach’s discography. But something here gives off ‘bonafide album’ – whether it’s the impeccable quality of the recordings themselves or the boys-next-door quiet confidence that shines through every song, it’s pretty impressive. The biggest giveaway that this is a fledgling band, though, is the obvious influence from genre stalwarts that has bled through to Viola Beach’s own songwriting. Really Wanna Call could be an early Wombats demo, while Like A Fool boasts a chorus that Catfish And The Bottlemen would be proud to have written. Singer Kris Leonard is comparable to a more chipper Alex Turner, especially seeing as his lyrics seem to have been written with his heart firmly on his sleeve and River Reeves’ intricate, staccato guitars have more than a hint of Two Door Cinema Club to them (and clearly need a lot a technical skill to play). They may have needed to form an undeniable identity of their own after this material came to light in order to properly succeed, but for the stage of their career they were at, it’s definitely a collection of songs to put them on the map.
The path the boys seemed to be heading down was one of summery feelgood indie, à la Circa Waves, and judging by Go Outside and earworm single Swings And Waterslides they could’ve been set to give their Liverpudlian counterparts a run for their money. While the songwriting itself is clearly still at a more simple level compared to genre giants (which is to be expected, of course), Viola Beach just displays the capability the quartet could have had to jump on the back of the gravy train. Swirling ballad Call You Up is probably the best indication of just where this band could have headed, with its more mature feel lyrically and subtle synth undertones musically. But the shining light of this record is undoubtedly Boys That Sing, the song Viola Beach have become known for. Yes, it possesses those same weaknesses all novice bands do, but something about that paired with the irresistibly catchy chorus and wide-eyed frankness makes this track something special – for being both a great indie-pop anthem with bags of potential and the best we’ll ever get from this band.
Viola Beach were a group of four young lads from Warrington with a zest for life and a passion for music, and that’s exactly what this collection of songs tells us. Sure, the edges of their package as a band might have needed smoothing, but that’s completely understandable considering the stage of their career they’d reached. But based on this collection of material, Viola Beach seem like they were further down the ladder than their sound suggested, making the fact they died when their diaries were jam-packed with tours and festival appearances all the more heartbreaking. But the infectious, sparkling songs on Viola Beach should hopefully allow the young men to be remembered how they should be – stupidly talented and on the edge of something great.
For fans of: Two Door Cinema Club, The Wombats, Catfish And The Bottlemen
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Viola Beach’ by Viola Beach is out now on Fuller Beans Records.