In the Presence of Greatness
A re-issue of the Rhode Island power-pop band’s long out-of-print debut album, In the Presence of Greatness is a reminder of the youthful exuberance that defined the group’s early work. By the time 1994’s Teenage Symphonies to God (for my money, still one of the all time great album titles) rolled around, Velvet Crush were writing more mature songs with more solid arrangements and musicianship. But this one, produced by Matthew Sweet, reveals a band still finding their way and it’s a pretty fun ride.
The endearingly sloppy “Window to the World” is prime jangly pop, with tambourine bashing and Sweet and Jeffrey Underhill’s squealing guitars. Drummer Ric Menck’s killer skins work provides the power for the brash, guitar hooks of “Drive Me Down.” “White Soul” has more inventive guitar work and an amazing bridge section. The band and Sweet’s off-kilter harmonies make up for bassist Paul Chastain’s lack of distinctiveness as a lead singer on tracks like “Superstar.” “Speedway Baby” is a sugar-rush of pummeling crunch pop thrills that was, at that time, about ten years removed from that music’s heyday. “Asshole” is a pretty, delicate ballad with an indelicate title that evolves into a guitar workout. “Lose yourself and you lost it all,” Chastain sings. “You won’t even know your heart from your asshole.”
The re-issue includes three bonus tracks including a squealing and squawking take on the Teenage Fanclub track “Everything Flows” and a punky version of Jonathan Richman’s “She Cracked.”
Action Musik Recordings, PO Box 2227, Toluca Lake, CA 91610-0227