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The White Album

Livewire / Cargo (2014)
Rating: 9.5/10

If someone were to hold a gun to my head and force me to name the world’s most underrated band and songwriter then, I would immediately opt for Illinois-based Enuff Z’Nuff and their former frontman Donnie Vie.

Mr. Vie formed one half of what is without doubt one of the greatest, yet criminally ignored songwriting partnerships of all time. With Chip Z’Nuff he was responsible for dragging what started out as a “glam metal” band into what would become the “heavy metal Beatles”.

With such stunning albums as Tweaked (1995) and Seven (1997), Enuff Z’Nuff should’ve been filling stadiums worldwide, but as is the case with so many ultra-talented artists it just wasn’t to be. Undeterred Donnie Vie ploughed on, releasing an incredible debut solo album entitled Just Enough (2003) and eventually severing all ties with Chip and company in 2013.

And so, now we have The White Album; another joyous celebration which follows on from 2012’s brilliant Wrapped Around My Middle Finger, and which furthers my belief that this man is a musical genius. How Donnie Vie hasn’t been showered with accolades I’ll never know, but it says an awful lot about the music business when such a mercurial talent can only release albums to a smattering of applause.

The White Album comes as a double package boasting 19 tracks, including two stupendous cover versions of John Lennon’s legendary ‘Imagine’ and Chicago’s ’25 Or 6 To 4’. But first we must tuck into the original material, and there are 17 sugar sweet sugar lumps to get through.

‘I Wanna Do It To You’ opens up the record; it’s a nifty funked up strut built upon Vie’s recognisable drool whic cavorts playfully with that simple yet energetic prod of percussion and guitar. Donnie Vie has made a living out of reinventing the wheel; flecking bubble-gum rock with a kaleidoscopic marrying of soul, funk, The Beatles-esque joy and power-pop glam. However, with ‘I Wanna Do It’ there’s a triumphant mix of Bootsy Collins cosmic groove, which in turn brings to mind Prince at his most deft… you’ll be tapping away to this even when you sleep.

The sheer class of Donnie Vie is expressed through that expected versatility as expressed with ‘Handy Dandy’, which is a kind of classic rock ‘n’ roll jaunt with a 50s edge; the sort of cut rocker John Lennon would have been proud of. It’s a tune which contrasts something like ‘Haunted’, which comes striding into the room in true melancholic fashion as Vie fuses elegance with sullen reflection. Vic Alfaro’s drum is a steady, stark plod that runs like a grey streak through a contrasting swirl of rainbow colours, which are in turn sprigged with Vie’s lazy croon.

One always feels that Donnie Vie could write an album in under an hour, such is his creative majesty. He evokes the soul of Elvis Costello combined with the fragile existence of John Lennon as ‘Unforsaken’ aches with its sweeping melody, which is aced by Vie’s brittle vocal sway. Elsewhere, we have the gentle breeze of ‘For Your Pleasure’, and while Vie is quick to express his disappointment that the “sun don’t shine anymore”, he takes us on a musical trip into a world where the elements do not matter, and the mere trickle of a note is just enough. That is the beauty of Vie as a songwriter; he never alienates the listener, but instead makes you feel like you’re there with him on some fluffy pink cloud.

With ‘Happy Days’, ‘Crash And Burn’, ‘Light Shine On’ and ‘Better Love Next Time’ we again get that colourful mix of Beatles-esque coolness and simple, upbeat harmony – especially with the latter, which is so uplifting as a simple, poppy shuffle that one can only gasp in disbelief.

Throughout The White Album there may be times when you feel you’ve heard a certain melody or pop-fuelled passage before, and that’s simply because Vie is so unashamedly influenced by the aforementioned Beatles, as well as Cheap Trick. As in the shadow of every candy floss bop though, there’s a sentimental ballad such as ‘My Love’ and ‘Almost Home’, which sounds as if it’s been plucked right off that other “white album” (The Beatles) released in 1968.

In a sense, Vie hints at what The Beatles might have sounded like if they’d survived well into the 1980s. After all, the eloquent ‘You’re My Favourite Thing To Do’ is, for me anyway, typically Paul McCartney in its simple nodding backbeat. But one thing we often forget as regards to Vie’s solo stuff is his ability to crank it up every now and then, and so the likes of ‘Big Brother’ are a welcome addition to a record that for the most part can be described as “floaty” and stirring. ‘Big Brother’ offers up extra venom in the vocal tone and extra metallic fizz with the guitar, while ‘Freaky Deaky’ is equally bombastic with its fuzzy chug ad yet still quirky lead.

As for those covers. Well, Chicago’s ’25 Or 6 To 4’ is up first and I’m surprised that it’s a live track, because in a sense it makes it an outcast here. I’d have loved to have heard Donnie Vie’s studio take, but even so it is the sort of track which showcases that rarely spoken of “power” in Vie’s voice and as expected it’s still a fine version rich in horns. The most anticipated inclusion, however, had to be ‘Imagine’. Now, I’ve heard Donnie Vie cover numerous Beatles tracks in the past – ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, ‘Run For Your Life’ etc. – and I also kneeled and worshipped at the altar of his cover of John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’, and so with ‘Imagine’ it felt almost as if he was covering the holy grail of songs… and he does a wonderful job. Instead of sprucing it up, there’s an almost demo-like feel as that stark percussion plods in tandem with that acoustic strum and all the while Vie’s sleepy voice does justice to Lennon’s without simply aping it.

The other two tracks I must speak of are ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Without You’; both are listed as outtakes and yet both are wistful melodies that spirit you away to a place where warm summer breezes motion beneath clear blue skies. Again the songs boast that classic Vie formula of being a tad under-produced, which in turn gives the sound a somewhat understated feel. I’m sure that if in the wrong hands such songs could have been tampered with and bestowed a horn section here and a choir elsewhere, but Vie’s songs work in whichever form they take, and the breezy groove of ‘Without You’ pretty much sums up Vie down to a T. This time we get an almost Burt Bacharach-vibe initially before Vie resorts to that lazy drool over a simple nodding percussion. But this is definitely the album’s most swinging track and it’s the sort of song that deserves to be heard in some cavernous arena. In fact, with ‘Without You’ and ‘Victory’ (the latter a song that sadly didn’t make the final cut for this album due to technical issues) it suggests that Vie could effortlessly branch out into more bombastic climes.

One can never get enough of Donnie Vie’s songwriting prowess, and with The White Album we’ve really been spoiled. Indeed, with such a smörgåsbord of fizzy pop, sizzling bubblegum bops and sentimental balladry, I believe it’s time to overdose again on what in my opinion is one of the finest releases this century.

Neil Arnold

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