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In the Presence of Greatness

Velvet Crush

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Album Review

Velvet Crush's first and best album was mistakenly lumped in with the then-predominant shoegazer aesthetic upon its release in 1991, thanks to its British release on the shoegazer-central Creation label and the occasional washes of sparkly electric feedback and creamy-smooth harmonies that settle over some of the songs. However, this album, produced by the band and Matthew Sweet (who also added lead guitar and harmonies), is actually a straight-up piece of '90s power pop. Considerably more electric and driving than Paul Chastain and Ric Menck's '80s recordings under a variety of band names (collected on the albums Hey Wimpus! and The Ballad of Ric Menck), thanks in large part to the contributions of guitarist Jeffrey Borchardt (confusingly known as Jeffrey Underhill when leading his own concurrent band Honeybunch) and Sweet, In the Presence of Greatness sounds like Big Star's #1 Record updated for a new decade. The general air of mildly anguished wistfulness is the same, as are the jangly guitars and high harmonies, but Velvet Crush plays with a post-punk sprightliness and a less overtly British Invasion-inspired melodic sense. The album was reissued in a new cover on Chastain and Menck's own Action Musik label in September 2001. The remastered sound is an improvement, but the three bonus tracks, the original "Circling the Sun" and covers of Teenage Fanclub's "Everything Flows" and Jonathan Richman's "She Cracked" are also available on the singles compilation A Single Odessey (sic). Folks happy with the original U.S. release on Ringers Lactate or the Creation issue don't need to upgrade.

Biography

Formed: 1989 in Rhode Island

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

A classic power-pop band in the tradition of the Raspberries and Big Star, Velvet Crush formed in Rhode Island in 1989, although their roots actually extended west to Champaign, Illinois, where vocalist/bassist Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck first met and began performing together. There Menck founded his own small label, Picture Book, on which he and Chastain recorded solo material as well as singles under various group names like the Springfields, Choo Choo Train, the Paint Set and Bag O'Shells....
Full Bio