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Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Grad and glad

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 1999 at 12:00 AM

A local band makes good and makes a good record. That’s enough material for a story all its own. After all, they say it’s harder to be a hero in your hometown than anywhere else in the world. Ain’t it the truth.

Anybody who’s listened to the Verve Pipe honing its personal sound and poetry into this, its haunting, self-titled latest, will be tempted to refer back to the band’s growth chart. It started at ground zero with the frat-house, crowd-surfing blues of "Freshman" in all its blank-stare insights – "We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip"? – and moved up a notch toward dissonant sophistication somewhere around the band’s next radio hit, "Photograph." The truth is that even those perpetual prom night tunes have an added luster for leading up to this seductive yet respectable record. Forget the fact that Michael Beinhorn produced it, and think near-brilliant lyrics forged into strangely disembodied tunes that float into you like something from Simon and Garfunkel in the ’60s visited by futuristic, unearthly drum loops (although Beinhorn gets credit for the latter as well). Think isolated guitars teamed up with Brian Vander Ark’s Peter Gabriel vocal gravel inside the hallowed architecture of one inventive soundscape after another.

The Verve Pipe isn’t just another band from Lansing run through the rock ’n’ roll car wash by A & R reps and image consultants doing contract work for the Nipper. At least not anymore. The songs on this album are focused, accomplished and consistent enough to qualify as a body of work, instead of mediocre filler between two radio singles. The hypnotic "Kiss Me Idle" moves like a leaky faucet crying at midnight. Fortunately, it’s one that you won’t want to shut off. It is ghostly yet carnal, saying more in its struggle to speak than most bands say in an entire album. If the song falls short of seizing the FM airwaves, it should at least find its way to the top of the syllabus for this year’s Authentic Songwriting 101.

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