Velvet Crush – Heavy Changes

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

The hierarchy of talent is interesting. Jeffrey Borchardt was the guitarist and lead singer of Honeybunch. But when he got together with Paul Chastain and Ric Menck to form Velvet Crush, he ceded vocalist duties to Chastain. What’s more, all the lead guitar on the debut was handled by Matthew Sweet. So, good enough for Honeybunch, but not for Velvet Crush. What about Matthew Sweet? Well, he famously relied on Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd for guitar duties. So, good enough for Velvet Crush but not good enough for his own releases. Relatedly, Andy Bell – guitarist with Ride – was demoted to bass when he joined Oasis (not that I think of the bass as a lesser instrument, but I am pretty sure guitarists do).

What I Think of This Album

Ironically, the first Velvet Crush album without a self-aggrandizing title is the first Velvet Crush album that is not great. It’s not bad; there are definitely more disappointing Velvet Crush albums. And it could have maybe been a very good album, but the band made some odd choices (including billing themselves this one time as “The Velvet Crush,” possibly the most bewildering of their decisions).

As much as the country-rock of Teenage Symphonies to God was a left turn stylistically, so too is the decision to record an album of rough edges and ridiculous guitar solos. In fact, I sometimes wonder if this was all a joke, because the solos are painfully obtrusive and obnoxious, and they are everywhere; it is very difficult to believe anyone (much less everyone) sincerely believed that the solos complemented the songs. Velvet Crush was a four-piece at this point, picking up guitarist Peter Phillips (Six Finger Satellite, Matthew Sweet), who also joined in on the songwriting. If you strip out the absurd guitar heroics (and also let Menck play in his usual style, and not this harder approach), you would end up with some pretty good songs. I bet the demos of these tracks were more interesting than the final product. That said, the songwriting is a bit weaker than on the previous albums.

The band kicks things off by trying to pummel “Play For Keeps” into submission, even as the harmonies and melody call for a lighter touch; the extended and uninspired solo at the end is FARCICAL. Similarly, the band mistreats “Standing Still” to an almost criminal degree, with another solo that is not just out of place, but also boring. “Fear of Flying” sounds a lot like Sound of Lies-era Jayhawks; it never quite soars but also isn’t weighed down like the other tracks. “Think It Over” is a straight up great tune, adding a touch of the country leanings from Teenage Symphonies, and offering outstanding harmonies and a guitar part that actually involves delicate, jangly arpeggios. “Ever After” isn’t much of a track (though it has its moments), and “Used to Believe” is pedestrian, so it’s not like the tiresome guitar wankery ruins it. “Wake Up” is a throwback to the debut, with some nice production touches. “God Speed” is unusually bluesy, so no thanks there, too. The cover of Buck Owens’s “White Satin Bed” is decent. The band closes (sort of) relatively strongly with the urgent “Live For Now,” with unusually emotive vocals from bassist Paul Chastain. A hidden track “Seen Better Days” is pretty good.

Mitch Easter is back in the producer’s chair, and also helped out with the playing, as did returning guest Wes Lachot and new invitees David Gibbs (Gigolo Aunts) and Greg Humphries (who is probably Greg Humpreys of Dillon Fence, in light of the stylistic connection to Easter’s Let’s Active and the fact that this album was recorded in North Carolina). Phillips died in 2015.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Think It Over” is one of the band’s best songs, hidden on this silly, ill-conceived album.

Release Date

1998

The Cover Art

The white space and the colors of the font are pleasantly retro, as is the always-welcome “stereo” designation. The image is vibrant enough, I guess, but not really appealing.

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