The Verve Pipe, Villains [1996]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, June 23, 2010 5:45 PM

In the 14 years since 1996, there hasn’t been anything quite like The Verve Pipe’s Villains. It’s not the album’s swagger or its punch; other bands have very successfully emulated both. It might have something to do with that funny movement that developed in the early 2000s, when a groundswell of angry/sad, often tattooed men with high, somewhat childlike voices remarkably drowned out the adult males in rock music. (Yes, I’m talking about emo.)

Every time I listen to the title track from Villains, I’m blown away that I used to hear this song on the radio.  It's the kind of song I always wish bands would release as singles but never do.  A brooding rocker about the media’s elevation of criminals to celebrity-status, “Villains” is not a catchy song.  The insistent refrain, “See how they twist and shout,” is more harpoon than hook.  And although the song didn’t track higher than #22 on rock radio, I still find it amazing that it was released as a single at all.  Only in the 90s would a major label even consider releasing it as the follow up to a smash like “The Freshmen.”


Speaking of The Verve Pipe’s only #1 hit, it must be bittersweet for a band to write its best song so early in its career.  Songs like “The Freshmen” are truly once-in-a-lifetime gems that only very, very luckiest songwriters stumble upon.  The guys in TVP had to know they could never top it.  “The Freshmen” first appeared on the band’s 1992 debut indie release, I’ve Suffered a Head Injury.  It was strangely removed from the album’s second pressing released later that year, was left off the 1993 follow-up Pop Smear, and then got reworked for Villains.  Even then, it was not released as a single for a full year after Villains hit stores, preceded by minor hits "Photograph" and "Cup of Tea."  Years later, Vander Ark admitted that the story of his best friend’s callous treatment of a girlfriend who had an abortion was actually autobiographical (albeit without the suicide).

While Villains immersed itself in the distorted, heavy guitars of mid-90s post-grunge, it added subtle layers of texture, such as the keyboards in “Penny is Poison,” a pretty but somber tune about resignation to reaping what we sow.  While Penny may be awful to the song's narrator, he accepts it ("Penny is poison but I don't mind), admitting that he's been just as awful to other women ("Starving the love of the marvelous / I was the Penny to previous").

Penny is Poison:

Indeed, Villains is pervaded by similar themes of numbness and disinterest.  The characters are world-weary, but rather than grow bitter, they are afflicted with ennui.  They have given up.  The subject in "Villains" begins to lose interest in the "villain on the cover / of every major magazine" by the simple act of a dropped subscription card (perhaps also a comment on making money off the celebration of evil?).  In "Drive You Mild," Vander Ark acknowledges he "should drive you wild," but settles for underwhelming.  Elsewhere, he "scraped the bargain basement / bought a lover less than fantastic / Spoke to me barely, if at all."  Whether in love or grander themes, the album as a whole suggests that the true villains are within us.

Eels, "Looking Up"

Posted by Greg , Thursday, June 17, 2010 8:20 PM

About a month ago, EELS announced their forthcoming new album, Tomorrow Morning.  They've now provided a free download of "Looking Up":

Tomorrow Morning will be released on August 24 on the EELS' E Works Records label.

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs [preview]

Posted by Greg 8:10 PM

I've been a little slow to write about this (or anything else, really), but I think I can reasonably blame my wedding and honeymoon for that.  (As an aside, my wife and I were very disappointed that The National did not show up.  They didn't even respond to our e-mail invitation!)

Anyway, Arcade Fire have been releasing teasers for their new album, The Suburbs.  You can check out a pretty damn cool preview of their recent 12" single of "The Suburbs"/"Month of May" on their website.  My favorite part?  Press pause while either song is playing.  (OMG!  Sounds just like vinyl!  It's sad the stuff that makes me happy.)  I never got into Funeral or Neon Bible, but for some reason these new tracks have me really excited for the new album.  "The Suburbs" shuffles along at a carefree, easy pace, while "Month of May" hits a little harder.  It's kind of a goofy punk song, but the band pulls it off well.

The actual 12" was released in limited supply at various independent record stores.  (My local shop was selling it for something like $25.)

This week saw the premiere of two more tracks, "Ready to Start" and "We Used to Wait," which are available all over the Internet, such as at one of my favorite music blogs (where you can find mp3s of all four songs).  I think these are rips of an Internet broadcast, so you'll have to wait until August 2 for the real thing.

Robbers on High Street release 7" single

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, June 8, 2010 9:32 PM

Previewed earlier on GTI, Robbers on High Street have released a limited edition 7" single of "Electric Eye," possibly my new favorite song, and backed by "Face in the Fog."  The vinyl will ship with an mp3 download card, and a digital-only release is set for June 22. Check out both tracks here:

The band is also on tour in the NY/Philly/DC area:

Thursday June 10th, 2010 M Room – Philadelphia, PA
w/The Bloodsugars

Friday June 11th, 2010 Velvet Lounge – Washington, DC
w/The Bloodsugars, Kaiser Cartel, Jeremy Messersmith

Saturday June 12th, 2010 Knitting Factory – Brooklyn, NY
“Electric Eye” b/w “Face in the Fog” 45 release show.
w/The Bloodsugars, Israel Darling, Spouse

Sunday June 13th, 2010 TT the Bear’s Place – Cambridge, MA
w/The Bloodsugars