The latest Velvet Crush album is the band’s attempt to return to the guitar-oriented power pop sound of early efforts like 1994’s classic Teenage Symphonies to God. It comes on the heels of 2003’s Soft Sounds, a mature, more ballad-laden offering from head Crushers Ric Menck and Paul Chastain. While not terribly adventurous musically, and not entirely successful in reclaiming past glories, Stereo Blues presents a few fine examples of the Crush’s enduring charm.
That’s certainly true of the slow burner “The Connection,” featuring Chastain’s raspy lead vocal, great harmonies and a guitar meltdown par excellence over the course of its seven minute run time. The Crush also gives us a great little two-minute riff-rocker called “Want You Now.”
There’s a touch of dissonance in the aggressive guitar attack of opener “Rusted Star” and the spring-loaded quiet/loud dynamics of “Get Yourself Right.” But for the most part, the tunes are sunny, if occasionally bittersweet. Or should I say, they are Matthew Sweet-esque. The influence of the band’s longtime compatriot is evident on the jangly pedal steel set closer, “Great to Be Fine,” as well as on the Stonesy “B-Side Blues.” The latter nearly takes too long to find its hook, but when it does, look out. Drummer Menck’s outstanding skins work is a highlight of “California Incline,” which also features some more skronky guitars and another meltdown solo.
It may not be up to the high standards set by Teenage Symphonies and 1999’s eclectic and inspired Free Expression, but Stereo Blues still offers plenty of crunchy guitar pop and sweet harmonies, two things in short supply in 2005. Call it a step backward or a return to form, it’s just another nice visit with old friends Menck and Chastain.
Velvet Crush: www.velvetcrushrockgroup.com