A recent "Saturday Night Live" skit parodied a Regis-style morning show, complete with an interminably cheesy theme song. The joke was that the house band played for so long that there was no time left for the show. Vermont funk act Viscus' new disc Merging feels a bit like that sketch.
The CD starts off remarkably strong. Its opening title track is a blast of instrumental party funk boasting sax, organ and a propulsive beat. Interestingly, the album's closing track is a reprise of the same tune. It's the stuff in between that fails to make a lasting impression.
"Separate Paths" and "The Water" attempt to keep the funk vibe rolling. But Viscus' lyrical and vocal shortcomings rob the music of much of its potency. Guest singer Myra Mathis-Flynn livens up several of the songs, but microphone mainstays Ira Friedman and Derek Campbell don't fare nearly as well. At best they come across like a strange hybrid of Buster Poindexter and a B-list Elvis impersonator. There are even a couple of ill-advised attempts at rap.
Friedman's prose aims for a universal positivism, suggesting the world's problems can be solved solely through openhearted optimism. While there's plenty of metaphoric cheese to go around, the lowest point comes in "Absence," which subscribes to the notion that the more lyrics rhyme, the better they are.
Compounding the problem is the length of the tunes. Most of 'em are in the five-to-six minute range, with a handful running considerably longer. Viscus are undeniably strong musicians. Yet, due to unnecessary repetition, I found myself ready to hit skip before most tracks had reached their halfway point.
Unsurprisingly, Viscus sound best when working up an instrumental sweat. "Stevie"'s clavinet-fueled dance groove apes the funky bounce of its assumed namesake, Stevie Wonder. Merging's strongest cut is "New Groove." It's also one of the disc's shortest tunes. On it, baritone saxman Luke Laplant hurtles alongside British spy movie organ and a sick cowbell groove.
Perhaps the record simply needs more cowbell. Hmm, isn't that another "SNL" skit?