On 2005's Just Before Dark, which was his first release on his own Good Morning Monkey Records label and his first album to be billed purely as a solo CD, Mike Viola opted for a live recording of new songs, accompanying himself on guitar or piano, in contrast to the highly produced studio albums he had made under the group name Candy Butchers. For 2007's Lurch, he returns to the studio, making this the proper follow-up to 2004's Hang on Mike, but he retains some of the flavor of the stripped-down Just Before Dark on several tracks, notably "Dangerously Close," "Snowman in Tompkins Park," and "Good Ideas Grow on Trees," which feature his vocal and only a guitar or, in the case of "Snowman in Tompkins Park," a harpsichord, for most of their running time, with more elaborate arrangements only kicking in well into the track. Still, Lurch is largely a return to the pop/rock style familiar to listeners from Falling into Place, Play with Your Head, and Hang on Mike, which is to say, songs in the style of mid-'60s pop in the manner of the Beatles and the Hollies, albeit influenced by the clever lyrics and gruff vocal sound of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe from the mid-‘70s. "The Strawberry Blonde," for example, sounds like Costello fronting the Beach Boys. Harking back to his early days when Candy Butchers were a duo, Viola teams with his old partner Todd Foulsham on four tracks, though not on "279 East 10th Street," which sounds like an ode to those days with its chorus, "We had a good run/But now we're done." Viola's catchy hooks and affection for studio ear candy, including lush harmony vocals and handclaps, often evoke an impression of AM radio in the era of Beatlemania, but his lyrics puncture that impression with their cleverness and commentary. "When I Hold You in My Arms" may sound like pure pop until he sings, "I'm right where I'm supposed to be/At the end of the second verse." Thus, he has it both ways, creating irresistible music that is simultaneously a commentary on its own construction.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann