The Verve Pipe, Pop Smear – Retro CD Review

I think it is safe to say that most everyone in Michigan loved The Verve Pipe at some point in time or other. I am no exception to that statement. I recall when my friend Spencer Blickley first played this album for me, although not the specifics, and so thought it would be a triple-treat to review for Xmas, being a band from Michigan who gained a large local following in West Michigan, being a band to whose music I was really first properly introduced by a person whom I consider a good friend, and that the album was released in December of 1993. Not to mention that the album was recorded at the illustrious Station C Studios, Grand Rapids! The band has become a guilty pleasure for many in the succeeding years, and even though that may be the case, there is good reason for them to be popular with the music crowd, as is evident with this album, although it falters occasionally in terms of pace and direction.

Starting with the first track, “Pretty For You”, Pop Smear shows some of the best facets of the band. The musical technique and variety of influences that comprise the backing for what seem at first to be subliminal vocals are varied but well-organized. I love the lyrical structure of the vocals. More stream of thought than constructed pop. “Swallow this scene” takes on a whole new meaning, if there was a different one in the first place, and if there wasn’t, well, it’s a great effing line. “Victoria” is a perfect example of what I like about this band: excellent harmonies, strong melody, influence of drone but also strong rock base, perfect breakdown in the middle of the song. And for the most part, their songs aren’t too long. “Honest” is energetically-captured flamenco guitar on top of pop music, the way José Feliciano used to do it. Thus far, the album has been excellent.

“The River” is where things start to get a bit off course, because, as you guessed it, the song seems to meander through over six minutes without seeming to go anywhere. There really is no resolution to the song, and it leaves me hanging, feeling as if I really didn’t accomplish anything by listening to it. Neither did the band, for that matter. It contains some well executed guitar licks that sound occasionally like they were lifted from the Black Crows’ “She Talks To Angels”, but I feel like that one time when I didn’t get off. I have noticed, as well, that many of their song lyrics seem to deal with failed relationships, and that is one topic that can be dispensed with, especially when it’s dealt with the way everyone before you has dealt with it. “What You Wanted” is more of this sort of thing; I really am unsure of where the band is trying to go with this song. I feel as if I am pulled in multiple directions on this song. If you remember the movie The Exorcist, you will understand after having listened to “What You Wanted” when I say that I wouldn’t be surprised if I were rent asunder by fish-hooks the next time I listen to the song. Not because it is unpleasant, but because it just seems to go in too many directions at once, and turns into chaos with no direction, eventually. “Spoonful of Sugar” is aimed at being an anthem of dissension, and doesn’t quite stand up, being a little indirect. It DOES, however, contain one of the best twenty-six second guitar solos produced by a Michigander NOT from the Detroit area, and the backing vocals are excellently orchestrated.

“Sleepy Town” is short, cute, and belongs in a reproduction of ‘The Grinch’, I think. This is not a bad thing. ‘The Grinch’ could use a reworking, especially after its last ruination with Jim Carrey. “Bullies On Vacation” is odd. But I like it. It is, in a nutshell, a description of frustration at being unable to exact revenge on someone because life has gotten to him first. So quirky and almost silly, and I love it! Yes, I will ignore the concept of making any criticism here, because I like this song and it’s Xmas season.

“Wanna Be” is the first song I heard by them, other than the original version of “The Freshmen”. This is the song Spencer played for me some years ago. Listening to it again, I still like the construct of the song, even if I think the sentiment is a little hollow. It’s a good song and all, but what do you expect, guys? It’s not about ART when you get that far, it’s about entertainment and what sells. If you can sell your art, then great. If not, well, good luck. You should know that going into the business, it’s that evident. This aside…the song itself has all the elements of a good rock song within its music, and the cynicism of the lyrics is there. It just seems to me that it’s misplaced a bit. “Out Like A Lamb” does a better job of hitting its target as a protest song, I think, than “Spoonful”, in part because of its mellow, acoustic composition and its targeting of killing in the name of religion. It leads us down by still waters and bathes us in the question of: why are those who flout the name of their God so freely willing and able to kill others who do the same? At least, that is what I hear. The wonderful thing about secular music is that it is much more interpretable than Christian rock.

“Senator Speak” is basically liberal spew from the mouth of those who hated the Bush, Sr. regime (and I was one of them). It meanders down a surprisingly tight line, and is a particularly clever tune as well. “Is It Worth It” is now one of my favorites on the album. Even though it is over six minutes, it is pretty straightforward, direct, and goes somewhere, from beginning to end. One of the best two-chord songs I have ever heard, along with Shudder To Think’s “Ex-French Tee Shirt”. The minimalist song structure, and lulling toms on the drum kit make it a song to fall asleep, make love, read a book, wash dishes, cook, or play guitar to. This should be one of the band’s proudest moments. Sometimes the sum of the simple parts is greater than the individual’s fantastical abilities separated. This song is an excellent album closer.

I searched and searched, but could not find any information on the cover art for the album Pop Smear. Sorry, folks.

OVERALL RATING: This album deserves a solid 8, but really, only a 7.5 has been earned…sorry guys. Despite their reputation for energetic live performances, I didn’t really feel that there was enough of a rush in the album. Not that the songs are bad…just needed a little more gut and muscle, I think. If one or two songs had been removed, I think it could have earned that 8.