Velvet Crush – In the Presence of Greatness

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

One of my favorite power-pop bands, and one of my favorite bands of the ‘90s, Velvet Crush gives you everything you could ask for from the genre. Emerging from the collegiate cornfield of Champaign, Illinois, drummer Ric Menck (originally from Barrington, Illinois) and bassist/vocalist Paul Chastain recorded together under various names including the Springfields, Choo Choo Train, and Bag-O-Shells, and then moved to Rhode Island in 1990 where they joined forces with Jeffrey Underhill (Honeybunch). The result was arguably among the best American power-pop of the decade. I have never seen Velvet Crush live, but I have seen Chastain and Menck as part of Matthew Sweet’s touring band, so I guess that’s something. I also once spotted Menck chatting with Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo, in what I think of as the Summit of the Ric[k]s.

What I Think of This Album

This is a bracing, energetic, almost life-affirming album, even as the band intones “you don’t know your heart from your asshole.” This debut may or may not be the band’s best album, but it is definitely the most fun one.

The opening chiming riff of “Window to the World” is sideswiped by a distorted lead line and a rough rhythm guitar part, but Paul Chastain’s sweet vocals (augmented by Matthew Sweet’s harmonies) keep it all together. In fact, Sweet played lead on all these tracks and he does a phenomenal job – the snarling solo on “Window” is fantastic. The sneering guitars of “Drive Me Down” counterbalance the chorused vocals, and Chastain sings the verses with considerable urgency while Ric Menck kicks ass on the kit. Sweet lays down a wah-wah part on “Ash & Earth,” which bristles with desperation. “Blind Faith” is not a tribute to the ‘70s supergroup (which also had a “Ric” in it) but is the best song on the album, with another winning vocal performance (reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub), outstanding guitar work, and a wonderful melody. Almost as good is the aptly-titled, stinging “Speedway,” which builds and releases over the course of its running time, and Menck does his best Keith Moon impression; Sweet once again impresses on the six-string. “Stop” is a nice Beatles-meets-Byrds(-meets early Who) number, and “Die a Little Every Day” is a muscular take on classic melodicism.

My reissue (on the band’s own Action Musik label) adds a scathing Jonathan Richman cover (“She Cracked”), an enjoyably ragged Teenage Fanclub cover (“Everything Flows”) and the excellent “Circling the Sun.” Matthew Sweet also produced (on an eight-track).

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitars on this are not to be missed.

Release Date

October, 1991 (original); September, 2001 (reissue)

The Cover Art

The art of the reissue (far right) is pretty boring, and the fonts are terrible. That said, it is leagues better than the original cover art (near right), which juxtaposes a very unflattering photograph with um, a fish, and employs an even worse font.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑