There is something about Viva Voce that is hard to pin down. I?ve listened to this entire album at last four times now, but I still can?t really pinpoint what it is that I love about it so much. I could say a million good things about this album, but they would all sound clich? and this album is not. In fact, the Robinsons have a way of writing songs that I think the Beatles would be proud of, but warping them with other sounds into something unique. Old tricks are made new again. And where they don?t use old tricks, they invent new ones that will undoubtedly be used by many others in the years to come.
Is it Anita Robinson?s gentle voice (think the Cardigans? Nina Persson) and her husband Kevin?s complement that makes me love ?Lovers, Lead the Way!? so much? Is it the thickly layered songs that I find new sounds in every time I hear them? Is it the fact that they use their voices as instruments as well? It is all so perfect and unique in its own way. I mean, who would think to put bongos in a song like ?Red D-Lish? with lyrics like ?It?s nothing you do/ That makes me love you/ I just do?? The fourth song ?Wrecking Ball? resembles the Breeders song ?Cannonball? in more ways than just the name, but it?s better. I especially like the Atari sound effect noises that hide in the background and the end that repeats ?I think I like it? to plain old rock music. My favorite song on the album, ?Brightest Part of Everyone?, is heavy with an intimidatingly distorted background that reminds me of sneaking around at night trying not to get caught. And ?Yr Epic Heart? has a fittingly epic beginning that takes about 3 minutes before you get to the real meat of the song, and even then it isn?t until 4 minutes in that you get to the orchestra bells. Yes, they use orchestra bells, booming orchestra bells. I never knew bells could sound so good with a guitar and drums. I mean, Smashing Pumpkins used them in ?Disarm?, but they were overridden by Billy Corgan?s voice. ?Yr Epic Heart? is completely instrumental, which just gives it more power.
These soundscapes are the kind you wouldn?t mind hanging out in for a couple of hours. There are a few quiet songs, but most of them keep a faster pace; in some, you barely notice the guitar, and in others, the guitar is smashing beer bottles for fun. But I can think of 2 groups of people who wouldn?t like this album: the lovelorn and the lyric-lovers.
First of all, the name, ?Lovers, Lead The Way!? is actually a very accurate portrayal of what you will hear. So many albums have names that just sound cool, but this one is full of happy music that is, indeed, all about love. Even the darker songs are happy somehow. ?Brightest Part of Everyone? may sound dirty, but if you listen closely, you hear ?you are just like the best and brightest part of everyone.? If you?ve just broken up with someone, or haven?t fallen in love in a long time, this is probably the last thing you want to hear. If, however, you?ve just the person of your dreams, ?Lovers, Lead The Way!? will fit your mood perfectly without being too sappy.
But then there is also that issue of lyrics. I am really picky about lyrics myself and if Viva Voce took as much time with their lyrics as they did with the music, I would be surprised. It certainly doesn?t detract from the amazing, beautiful, lush music they produce, but don?t expect any profundity nuggets to jump out at you either. You know that point when you?re falling in love with someone and you can?t seem to find anything that?s not clich? or cheesy to say to anyone else because you are so enamored? I think Viva Voce wrote their lyrics in that state. A sample: ?I want to believe that you only want me./ If you go, I will go too? from ?Salsalito?.
In the end, though, this is an amazing album. I love the way Anita and Kevin both sing in whisper-y voices, as if they?re sharing secrets that they don?t want anyone else to know. They use so many different instruments, I gave up trying to figure out what they were. And if listen to the album in order (I usually don?t), they?re songs start good and only get better. 8/10 -- Eden Hemming Rose (25 May, 2005)