I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this CD only four years old? Why does it deserve the deluxe edition re-issue treatment so soon? Well, Velvet Crush has spent the last couple of years opening the vaults and re-issuing most of their catalogue with oodles of bonus tracks and ephemera. So, why not? Plus, as with most things Velvet Crush, this CD was criminally overlooked and under-appreciated upon its release way back in 1999.
The re-issue features not only the re-mastered album but also a pretty, previously Japan-only, bonus track and an additional disc of the original demos for the record. That said, Free Expression isn’t the Crush’s best album. The nod would likely go to their 1991 debut In the Presence of Greatness or 1994’s brilliantly-titled Teenage Symphonies to God. By the time of Free Expression, Velvet Crush had been reduced to the core duo of vocalist/bassist Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck. It did see them re-uniting, however, with old pal Matthew Sweet, who also produced the band’s debut.
Free Expression does deliver a few stellar songs and a healthy dose of the three B’s: Beatles, Byrds and Big Star. The upbeat, slightly retro-sounding “Kill Me Now” kicks things off nicely with some cool fuzz bass and a touch of cheesy synth. Sweet’s nifty super-distorted lead guitar intertwines with the ringing Rickenbacker sound and warm harmonies on “Goin’ To My Head.” Great session player Greg Leisz’s pedal steel gives “Heaven Knows” and the excellent “Gentle Breeze” the SoCal country rock treatment. A chipper harpsichord and some bright trumpet punctuation carry “Melody #1,” which sports one of the best, um, melodies on the record. Chastain also offers a fantastic 90 second White Album-like acoustic ballad called “Things Get Better” (listen closely for a cameo by Matthew Sweet’s cat on this one) and the lump-in-the-throat piano gem “Ballad of Yesteryear.”
The real bonus here is the demos disc, which features not scratchy home recordings but fully-realized early alternate versions of the album tracks. Some of them actually sound fresher and brighter than the album versions.
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