The Verve Pipe

BMG, 1996

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The Verve Pipe had a couple of little-heard indie releases under their belt from the early ‘90s, but few people outside of my hometown had heard of them until “The Freshmen” was pulled as a single from Villains, the band’s major-label debut. The dark ballad was everywhere and still pops up on ‘90s compilations; with the lines about overdosing on Valium and “stopped a baby’s breath and a shoe full of rice,” the haunting tragedies of teenage youth that the now-adults can never get over is one of the most resonant lyrics of the decade.

Initially, the song had been recorded in 1992 for the band’s debut but has since been dropped, since it was reworked for Villains, and it may be the emotional high point of the disc but it’s only one facet of the band. Anyone vaguely familiar with these guys in the late ‘90s will remember “Photograph” and “Villains” being minor hits as well, and the disc as a whole is a well-written, albeit derivative, post-grunge gem that has more to offer than you may think.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Because they hit big in 1996, the Verve Pipe are often lumped in with bands like Third Eye Blind, Better Than Ezra, Everclear, Matchbox 20, and Live as post-grunge hitmakers who may have learned from the sound of the decade but didn’t quite capture the spirit or the imagination of those earlier bands. And there are moments of generic alt-rock scattered throughout the disc, buffed up by Jerry Harrison’s production (lest you forget, he helped catapult Live from obscurity to stardom in 1994 with Throwing Copper), but these moments are outweighed by the strong songs and depth in Brian Van der Ark’s song writing.

That depth is key, since on the surface, there’s not a lot to distinguish these guys from their peers. “Villains” and “Photograph” rely on the key trick of going from soft passages to roaring choruses, while “Barely (If At All)” sounds like Live and “Reverend Girl” sounds a touch like late-80s R.E.M., an early influence on the band’s sound. But damned if they’re not good songs, catchy, earnest rockers with charisma and free of pretension or posturing.

Same goes for “Drive You Mild,” the roar of “Cup Of Tea” (which features a wise decision to have what amounts to an instrumental chorus, letting the music fill the space) and the milder and quietly compelling “Reverend Girl,” which is buoyed by some fine piano work. 

The band slips into generic mode on “Myself,” “Ominous Man,” “Penny Is Poison,” and the closing duo of “Cattle” and “Veneer,” but again, each song has a little something that tweaks it, whether it’s an unexpected stop-start rhythm, a vocal tic, a hook…and in music like this, those details can make or break a song. It all adds up to an album that’s never more than good, but never less than that either. The hits collection may be the best introduction to these guys, but there’s a reason Villains went platinum, and it’s not just the one hit song.

Rating: B

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