Liner Note Author: Ric Menck.
Recording information: Cabaret Metro, Chicago (11/1994).
Velvet Crush created an alt-rock era power pop classic with their second album, 1994's Teenage Symphonies to God, a dozen tunes with big hooks, rockin' melodies, passionate vocals, and a heaping helping of electric guitars. The album immediately became a touchstone in the power pop underground, even if it failed to become the significant commercial success it deserved to be. Two decades on, the album's influence is still being felt among bands who worship at the altar of Big Star and Badfinger. Pre-Teen Symphonies is a collection that looks back at Velvet Crush's glory days. The first eight tunes are demos the group recorded prior to going into the studio to make Teenage Symphonies, some recorded at their rehearsal space while others were cut at Q Division Studios in Boston. (Six of the eight songs would be recut for the album. Of the remaining two, "Not Standing Down" didn't make the final lineup, but the cover of Three Hour Tour's "Turn Down" would pop up on a single.) The rough recordings lack the sympathetic sound of Mitch Easter's production, which plays a major role in Teenage Symphonies, but there's a scrappy energy here that gives the tunes greater rock action than they managed on the subsequent album, with guitarist Jeffrey Underhill, bassist and singer Paul Chastain, and drummer Ric Menck playing with all that their heart, soul, and muscles can summon. When Velvet Crush hit the road after Teenage Symphonies came out, they added Tommy Keene to the lineup on lead guitar, and the second half of Pre-Teen Symphonies includes eight songs from a November 1994 gig in Chicago (opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain, a fairly remarkable example of two fine bands who had no business appearing on the same bill). On-stage, Velvet Crush give the songs more snap than they did in the studio (demo or otherwise), and Keene's energy and chops elevated a fine band to a new level of power pop glory, closing out with a killer version of 20/20's "Remember the Lightning." Anyone who loved Teenage Symphonies to God will be delighted with this companion piece -- it's a potent reminder that it takes a great band to make a great album, and Velvet Crush certainly qualified. (Note for collectors: the demos previously appeared on the collection Melody Freaks, and the live tracks were released as Rock Concert. Both albums were issued by VC's own Action Musik label, and have been long out of print, so this is an especially welcome release for completists eager to locate this hard-to-find material.) ~ Mark Deming