Velvet Crush's Free Expression

Velvet Crush
Free Expression

Imagine you had the Beatles' White Album in your CD player and upon punching in song eight were expecting to hear John Lennon go, "She's not a girl who misses much," but instead, a gentle voice sang, "Did anyone tell you ... things get better," to the tune of an inverted "Blackbird" melody, with simulated bird tweets in the background. That would be "Things Get Better." Velvet Crush is presumably old enough to have experienced firsthand the tenure of power pop's holy trinity -- Big Star, Badfinger, and the Raspberries -- if not the Beatles themselves. But, unfunded by a big record label and hungry enough, as they say, to keep it real, the Crush makes a chunky, unpolished sound -- a little like the sloppy rock 'n' roll Matthew Sweet would make if he hadn't gone crap. It's ironic, then, that Sweet's production is so effective here; he's tweaked good sounds out of his Midwestern brethren Ric Menck and Paul Chastain, aka Velvet Crush.


There's the loose jingle-jangle of the guitars, the sharp crack of the snare, and the songs about love, love, love. Those elements are power pop's big, dumb hallmarks, but Velvet Crush is also smart. The group's distilled Elliott Smith's catalog into one song -- "Roman Candle" -- and named it after one of his records. "Heaven Knows" is a great piece of California country-rock, so the band invited California pedal steel specialist Greg Leisz to play along. It's Moogs 'R' Us on "Shine on Me" and "Kill Me Now." And finally, only the handful of people who consume power pop will know, but that slide guitar on "The Unlucky One" sure tries to mimic Badfinger's Apple labelmate, George Harrison. Yes, in some quarters, it's still all about the Beatles.

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