For most young people in the Midwest, the roads that existed among the endless cornfields outside of town offered an escape. Driving along those roads, you could smoke, drink, make out, not be seen. And because they were laid out like grids, you couldn’t get lost after drinking, smoking, and making out. Because this all took place in the Midwest, classic rock was almost always the soundtrack. Save for groups such as the Darkness, the majority of those songs haven’t seemed to extend into, or influence, much of anything worth listening to — especially for those of us who chose "alternative." All those dirty, nasty guitar solos gone for good. But wait: There is Viva Voce.
On their fourth full-length and Barsuk debut, Kevin and Anita Robinson revive those forgotten bits and pieces of classic rock, indie riffs, early-’90s alternative, and throw them together to allow all of you to Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. A title if belonging to Motorhead or Nine Inch Nails may be taken more seriously. Nonetheless, the members of Viva Voce accomplish a catchy cohesiveness that’s at its best when they allow their songs to stray.
At its best, in songs such as "Alive With Pleasure" off of 2004’s The Heat Can Melt Your Brain, Viva Voce is a more fleshed-out Scout Niblett. Structuring songs around dirty, nasty classic-rock guitar riffs and thriving drums. The opener, "Believer," is a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club replica that serves as an introduction to Anita’s droning guitar and Kevin’s heavy cadenced drumming. While they momentarily leave BRMC behind, Viva Voce often picks up where other bands have left off. The Robinsons’ influences are evident, from the Veruca Salt-esque "Drown Them Out" to the Mercury Rev-like "Never Be Like Yesterday."
When they blend these sounds into interesting song structures, Canned Heat guitar solos and Pixies-like bass and drum lines, such as "From the Devil Himself" and "We Do Not Fuck Around," these darker, looser, songs are when Anita’s guitar becomes distinctly, and impressively, her own. Unfortunately, the production fails to convey the energy of their live performances. These are songs, given that they are a guitar and drum duo, that need the rawness associated with other guitar and drum duos (White Stripes, Black Keys). It’s clear that their influences differ somewhat from those other bands, but only their shortcomings show when they try to expand out of that mold. When performed live, these songs may have an energy that makes them their own, but as they are, they feel like someone else’s.
There’s nothing wrong with beginning to pay homage to what was once dubbed alternative, but the risk is that bands such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Veruca Salt have already rubbed too close to the bone of bands such as the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Pixies. Still, at times ("So Many Miles"), Anita Robinson’s voice and guitar are as good as anything that era produced. It’s comforting in that it’s nostalgic, but that’s also what makes it fade into the background. Perhaps those songs aren’t ready to leave the cornfields. Why would you want to stop smoking and making out?