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Velvet Crush

Action Musik

In theory, a rock-band retrospective should be a sweet deal. The group has done its work and, for a just reward, gets a handsomely packaged, cherry-picked compilation designed to make casual fans wonder why they didn’t pay more attention. Velvet Crush’s new Melody Freaks doesn’t work like that. For one thing, it’s a collection of demos and outtakes. For another, without the contrast of the not-so-great songs that inevitably appear on the Providence, R.I., outfit’s albums, the great ones here sound less impressive. “Heaven Knows” conveyed pure Byrdsian bliss when it appeared sandwiched in the middle of the just-OK Free Expression LP in 1999. Here, it’s more like a Tom Petty B-side: fine but innocuous. True, without the studio gloss provided by fellow-traveling producers Matthew Sweet and Mitch Easter, the band’s subtler sides—such as the aching “Time Wraps Around You”—might be expected to fall a little flat. But even the straight-up rockers sound tired in this context, with both “Seen Better Days” and “My Blank Pages” registering more as Mick ‘n’ Keef retreads than pure pop for indie people. Meanwhile, the disc’s outtakes—nicked mostly from the sessions for the group’s third LP, 1998’s Heavy Changes—are a reminder of the valuable service provided by studio vaults. But give these perennial power-poppers credit for sheer audacity: Issuing 18 tracks of marginalia when your band was pretty marginal to begin with is, after all, kinda ballsy. And who knows? Maybe the perverse purpose of this sketchbook is to send fans back to the finished copies. If so, job well done: Melody Freaks isn’t even handsomely packaged. —Shannon Zimmerman