Play With Your Head
RPM / Sony
I’m not sure why Mike Viola removed his name from his band’s (they used to be Mike Viola and the Candy Butchers) — certainly, he cited great reasons for having his name in the band’s name in an interview with Gail Worley a couple of years back. It can’t be for any lack of confidence in the music contained on the band’s second full-length for RPM, Play With Your Head, because it’s a fantastic power pop album from start to finish. Perhaps, then, it’s just the opposite, and he’s become so confident in bandmates Pete Donnelly (bass) and Mike Levesque (drums) that he no longer feels he has to have his name up front, just in case things don’t work out. I hope the last hypothesis is the most accurate, because together, the Butchers make for a tight power-pop trio, indeed, and be thrilled if they remained a unit forever.
Nominative speculation aside, Viola is still front and center on this record, both figuratively and literally — in addition to singing and playing guitar, he wrote and produced every song, and that’s him on the front cover. Musically, the eleven tracks are perfect power pop confections, tinged with a light ’60s psychedelic feel and filled with instantly memorable hooks and choruses that are so deceptively simple that they catch the listener almost unaware. Like the aural equivalent of potato chips, you can’t hear just one. Think a more commercial, better-produced Apples In Stereo and you’re on the right track.
That’s not to say the record is overproduced, by any stretch. To the contrary, the songs all sound very clean and full (especially for a three-piece!), but they don’t sound too slick or glossy. It’s sweet, but not too sweet — and it’s never cloying.
And while the lyrics can sometimes be obtuse (I still don’t know what “My Monkey Made a Man Out of Me” means!), more often, they’re intelligent and evocative, as on “Worry My Dome” (“I wanna kiss a suburban girl/Get ripped and fill her head with sentimental words/Follow that purple prose/Down every rabbit hole“) and “Make No Mistake” (“I bet you’d find inspiration if I loaned you a car/With a map to the homes of porno stars/I know you dream about that stuff/On video when you’re alone you can’t get enough of her/But inside her own home, boy you can’t get it up for her/Send in the stuntman” has to be the best musical putdown since “You’re so vain/I bet you think this song is about you“).
So there’s plenty for Viola and his bandmates to be proud of on Play With Your Head. Don’t take Viola’s new relative anonymity as any kind of statement about the record’s worth — this is a gem of a disc that will likely end up on many “Best of 2002” lists.
Candy Butchers: http://www.candybutchers.com