If Mike Viola had only turned the trick of writing two perfect pop songs in the delectable "So Much Better" and "You're Alright But You Never Admit When You're Wrong," this would still be an album of note.
But he hits the bull's-eye on almost all of the thirteen songs.
Like many great melodic tunesmiths before him--Paul McCartney and Marshall Crenshaw are two definite touchstones--Viola has a serious gift for weaving hooks, harmony and lyric into classic, yet fresh shapes. Shapes that sound surprising yet inevitable. And shapes that are deceptive in their emotional power.
Take the joyful "279 East 10th Street." Over a Rubber Soul-style acoustic bounce, Viola writes a very nonchalant bit of nostalgia for an old apartment that was a crash pad for musician friends. On the surface, there's nothing complicated about it, yet he invests lines like "We gotta get lost before they change the locks" with such feeling, that you'll have tender feelings for a similar lodging in your own past.
Ditto on "The Strawberry Blonde," which finds Viola giving the ordinary chorus phrase "I've never felt love like this before" such a blast of key-changing, soul-lifting melody and harmony that you can't help but get swept up in the dizzy rush he's singing about.
And it should be said that Viola's singing is as strong and distinctive as his writing. His warm, slightly raspy tenor can convey all kinds of emotional color, from the melancholy of "Snowman In Tompkins Park" and "Dangerously Close" to the parental love of "Girly Worm" to the carnal urge of "When I Hold You In My Arms."
Mike Viola has been making memorable pop music since he was thirteen, both on his own and with his band Candybutchers. Lurch is his most winning collection yet, a record that is definitely in the running for my favorite of the year. • Bill DeMain