You think you’re here to read about that group that sang Bittersweet Symphony, right? Wrong. That’s The Verve.
You’re here to learn about one of the greatest bands ever to have a one-hit wonder during the 90s alternative rock scene that no one knew still existed: The Verve Pipe.
Let’s get some context. Remember this gem?
So, why did I choose this semi-obscure rock group to introduce myself to the world of UTBGeek and music blogging? Because I heart them from the depths of my hearty-heart, it’s that simple.
The Verve Pipe gathered their forces in 1992, but it wasn’t until the release of their album Villians in 1996 that they reached mainstream notoriety with “The Freshman.” This melancholic ballad opens with a poetic melody that drifts into your mind and carries you into the story. The vague story only mystifies the music further. As it continues, the listener is treated to a sad tale of loss and ache with deeper layer of seduction. This is all felt not only in the words and the music, but with the longing vocal delivery of front-man Brian Vander Ark. “The Freshman” reached #5 on the Billboard charts, and is still their only “popular” song to date.
But as any good geek or hipster can attest, popularity ain’t all there is to life. I found The Verve Pipe when the rest of the world did, but the sound wiggled its way into me and would not leave. It became such an anthem to me that it was the very first single I ever purchased – beating out Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” by a hair.
— Erica Lynne (@PippiMarried) December 7, 2014
Bottom line: this group affected me. Now, I won’t pretend that I became a loyal follower of all things Verve Pipe-y. I lost track of them for a while, too. I grew up before streaming music and YouTube made almost anything instantly accessible. I lived in rural PA, and I was relegated to waiting on my local FM station and MTV to play music for me. Also, there was that dark period of my life where I lived in a Bubble (not the BioDome) and almost all genres of music were scarce. So, yeah, I lost track of The Verve Pipe, but I clutched to that cassette and sunk into their sound whenever I could.
Now, why is a nearly 20-year-old one-hit-wonder relevant to all you beautiful people? Because beautiful people deserve beautiful music, and The Verve Pipe is gorgeous, darlings. So, let’s do like any good exposition do and break it down into parts. I’ll discuss the poetry of the lyrics, the diversity shown in their children’s music (Yes… you read that right.), and I’ll finish with a dissection of their newest album, Overboard, and how it all seems to come full circle in the end.
Poetry in the Melody
Perhaps the most resilient piece of The Verve Pipe’s artistry that keeps me hooked on every breath is the poetry of the lyrics. I’m a bit of a word nerd, and I appreciate anyone willing to showcase their linguistic prowess. Jeff Daniels actually co-wrote the title track of Overboard with Vander Ark and commented that Vander Ark is more of a story-teller that uses music to enhance the words rather than a straight songwriter.
Very few groups seem to carry the consistency to continuously write with such fervent elegance. The first phrase to tickle my fancy was from that original hit, “The Freshman”, when Vander Ark describes the song’s subject as, “She, a punk who rarely ever took advice.” Something about the delivery of that one line sets a satirical tone for the entire song that is later bolstered by the grim story.
They really hit their poetic stride in their most recent album, Overboard; the listener is treated to such sophisticated snippets as:
· “It’s abundantly clear, I’m another one mired in the meanwhile.” (“Carry On”)
· “What a wonderful peace of mind: living blind to the broken.” (“Latchkey Kid” –this entire song is particularly choice in its poetry).
· “Tuesdays are tedious. It’s early in the week for tempting fate.” (“Hit and Run”)
But even their children’s music is rife with lyrical supremacy.
· “So many little things, it seems that your life brings, you’ve gotta find your way around each one.” (“Worrisome One”, A Family Album)
· “You say pepperoni, and I say pepperoni. There really is no other way to say pepperoni.” (“Suppertime”, A Family Album)
· “Avoiding all that complication, I just skip their generation, and ask Grandma for anything I need.” (“When Grandma Says No”, Are We There Yet)
Speaking of Children’s Music…
In 2009, Vander Ark was asked to contribute to a children’s compilation CD, and that led to the band eventually creating two full albums of children’s music, A Family Album and Are We There Yet? As previously discussed, one gemstone in this tangential leap of genre is their lyrics. The Verve Pipe doesn’t pull any linguistic punches just because they’re singing to a younger audience. Yes, the subject matter is age-appropriate, but the composition and vocabulary is broad and intricately designed to heighten enjoyment for the children and their parents. I think I enjoy the music more than my kids do!
The music contained therein shows a depth and variety; it’s indicative of the band’s artistic reach. There is the bluesy “Homework Blues Stomp”, the jazz-infused “We Had to Go Home”, the country-western “Suppertime”, the epic power ballad “Cereal”, and their meta rock songs “Be Part of the Band” and “You Can Write a Song.” The band introduces different instruments like trumpet and harmonica and utilizes a cache of sound effects to add interest and context for the young ears. There’s even references to Van Halen and Warren Zevon, and one tune samples New Kids on the Block. I won’t tell which one, you’ll have to find it on your own. (Comment below if you find it!)
And then I was thrown Overboard…
Last year, I had a moment of true bliss when I discovered that The Verve Pipe, this band that had a significant impact on framing my musical interests, was releasing a new studio album. The release was a tender, quiet comeback. I felt like I discovered them again for the first time. In other words: I totally fangirled.
That emotion only compounded when I finally got to listen to the album. I even sent out one particular fangirl tweet that said something to the effect that this album was a concept album about my life. Don’t judge me. Every song seemed to speak to this Latchkey Kid.
I tend to bathe in the bittersweet side of life, delving into the somber elements. I grew up reading Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson, and darkness always held a more sincere truth to me. This isn’t me coming out as a goth; I’m a cheerful, perky thing. But the depth of true darkness is mesmerizing to me, and I enjoy immersing myself within. Keep that in mind, because Overboard is a rich, soulful album filled with that darkness.
Each song has a haunting honesty. I could dissect each track, but discovering the transitions is its own adventure. The songs manifest into this comprehensive story of the balance of pain and beauty. “I Want to Bury You” has a macabre perspective to an all-consuming affection. Even the upbeat “Ain’t Too Hard to Live Without Love”, that practically channels Randy Newman in its energy, contains a message of loneliness.
Finally, I want to share a personal insight from the album. I believe the decidedly poignant title track, “Overboard”, could be seen as a continuation of the original story told in “The Freshman.” The themes of seduction, secrecy, sinfulness, and solemnity remain throughout. I feel the organic progression in the lives of the characters we met 20 years ago through the finality of this newest release. I believe this shows a genuine voice and a passionate silence embedded into the notes of The Verve Pipe’s music. That is the reason why I heart them.
Read my follow up interview with Brian Vander Ark.