Velvet Crush – Free Expression

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

Having started this project from both ends of the alphabet and working towards the middle, I think this is now the final Boblsed records release I own. Velvet Crush seems like the perfect band for Bobsled, though the debut would’ve been a better fit. In the end, this is last Velvet Crush album I owned. I know I bought Stereo Blues, and while “California Incline” is a sweet tune, the album didn’t do it for me. I don’t clearly remember if I owned Soft Sounds, and while I dig its Velvet Underground-inspired cover art, it is a bit mushy. The band has been quiet beyond that, though Ric Menck keeps busy with other bands and of course, they often perform as Matthew Sweet’s backing band on the road.

What I Think of This Album

Free Expression is the sound of Velvet Crush’s retrenchment. Down to the core duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, and having had their time on a major label imprint, the band reasserted its proper name (dropping the temporary and malign “The”), signed to indie Bobsled, largely jettisoned both the country inclinations and the hard rock gestures of the prior two albums, and recorded a batch of ‘60s derived power pop with their old friend Matthew Sweet.

The album is not as exuberant as any of their earlier releases, but it does benefit from a calm maturity and more sophisticated production. Basically, this is the album where the band shows off their craft. And it is packed with great pop songs. “Kill Me Now” is a quieter version of a song they could’ve included on In the Presence of Greatness. “Worst Enemy” is deceptively tough, and “Goin’ to My Head” manages to combine a jangly guitar, a thick bass, and buried guitar leads under layers of harmonies. “Heaven Knows” and the supple and silvery “Gentle Breeze” strongly leverage their country-rock style. The perfectly titled “Melody #1” is sublime. I’m a big fan of the double false start of “All Together,” as well as of its trumpet. “Shine On Me” has a keyboard hook that Fountains of Wayne was probably upset they didn’t come up with first. The ballads are just so-so, and there are too many of them (four), though “Ballad of Yesteryear” has some nice moments.

Guests include the legendary Greg Leisz, David Gibbs (Gigolo Aunts), and Steve Crumb on trumpet.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Melody #1” is a fantastic song, and the trumpet and chugging organ put it over the top.

Release Date

1999

The Cover Art

Easily the worst cover art of Velvet Crush’s career. Very creepy and not at all representative of the sounds inside. Also, the orange is terrible, the album title stamp is foolish, and the frame is hideous.

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