The Vivian Girls, beloved by hipsters across the country, take their name from the writings of an eccentric, possibly mad Chicago janitor in the mid-1900s. That is easily the most interesting fact about the Vivian Girls, a group who have done very little to deserve their sudden celebrity status, save making some pretty good pop songs. The question is, for album number two, is that enough?
Much of their acclaim stems from their updated treatment of My Bloody Valentine-style fuzz and feedback, filtered through a girl-group sensibility. Imagine if Ronnie Spector had written songs for the Jesus & Mary Chain, and you’ll see why the skinny jeans set has jumped onto the Vivian Girls as their great white hope. And it’s always refreshing to see women making quality rock music, even though in the age of Beth Ditto and Karen O, that might not be as revolutionary as it once seemed.
But that’s what funny about these girls—they never seemed destined for great things. It’s not that their music isn’t good (it most definitely is), but that they don’t really have a lot of ambition. They never seemed meant for big sales or worldwide fame. Their eponymous debut, released just over a year ago, was not so much revolutionary as, well, nice. Some solid tunes and some filler, and a trio of smart, if slightly boring ladies behind it.
Everything Goes Wrong isn’t wildly different. A little longer, a little better production values, but the basic formula remains the same. Hook-free, with vocals best described as “detached”. “Survival” is the rare number that nearly sneaks a tune into the proceedings, but it doesn’t stand a chance. That’s not a bad thing, because what the Vivian Girls do, they do quite well. The problem is that 37 minutes of essentially the same song starts to feel rather exhausting. While “The Desert” and “Tension” are among the highlights, you’d be hard-pressed to say exactly what makes them stand apart.
The problem with Everything Goes Wrong is that the song structure at its core is very, very good. But that same song never varies, so the opening “Walking Alone at Night” sounds great, yes, as does “I Have No Fun”. But that only lasts so long before you realize that a little variety is essential to a great album, and the Vivian Girls are so consistent they make the Ramones sound like the Talking Heads. If the basic structure never changes, then how could a closing track like “Before I Start to Cry” be anything but a disappointment?
Ultimately, the Vivian Girls don’t do much with the indie cred they’ve built up in the past few yeas. Thanks to tracks like the shimmering “Can’t Get Over You”, this sophomore album might be staying in familiar territory—but it manages to avoid the sophomore slump. The question now: how long can they keep it up? And with fame, fortune, and a whole lot of hype, can the Vivian Girls challenge themselves enough to stay interesting? Will the next breeze of fashion blow them away, or can they be relevant in a musical climate that’s constantly changing?
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// Notes from the Road
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