Ladies and gentlemen, let's step back a few years and revisit my old 'zine, Lois is my Queen. Let's look and see what was said about Free Expression the first time around:
"This new album by retropoppers Velvet Crush is a good but not entirely satisfying record. Apparently, Velevt Crush have undergone a major lineup change, and this album finds them in that most dreaded of all positions: "in transition." Because of this, their songs, while good, never really go any further than simply being "nice," friendly and affable pop music that's not going to offend your sensibilities. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't say that something seems to be missing. There's just an unknown creative spark that is lacking on Free Expression. It seems a bit too raw in places--especially the drumming--and I feel as if they're simply going through the motions of what Velvet Crush should sound like. Don't get me wrong--there are some extremely wonderful moments here and there, from lovely harmonies, passages that sound stolen from Roger McGuinn, and a friendly, sunny vibe that just screams Los Angeles. The best number on Free Expression is "Melody #1," and it is here that they achieve the highest peak of success: "bubblegum heaven." While I have every hopes that this album is a 'grower,' it hasn't really sparked any sense of devotion in me as of yet, and each time I listen to it, I try to find something outstanding about it, but it's sadly not connecting with me. It's good, what you'd expect Velvet Crush to sound like, but sometimes that's not enough. It's no Teenage Symphonies to God,--but then again, what could be?
That's a bit harsh, isn't it? Yeah, I thought so, too, and on listening to the reissue of Free Expression I've changed my opinion on it. At the time, it just didn't strike a chord with me, and I really can't explain why, really. It just wasn't a love connection. As hard as I try to rationalize why it didn't move me, I just don't know what to say. Free Expression--while a bit rough around the edges, is everything I like: strong hooks, wonderful melodies, harmonies to die for, and an obvious all-around commitment to making quality music. I'm still quite fond of "Melody #1," even if it does sound like a Byrds outtake (and a possible source of, erm, borrowed inspiration for The Polyphonic Spree's "Light & Day"), and "Ballad of Yesteryear" is the song that's grown on me the most. Interestingly enough, the album was produced by Matthew Sweet; it's interesting in the fact that this album sounds a whole lot like his new band, The Thorns.
Velvet Crush decided to make things a bit interesting with the reissue of Free Expression by including a second disc that is merely a demo version of the album. Want to know the interesting part? It could have easily be released as an album, and nobody would have been the wiser. While there are moments that are indeed rough, it's difficult at times to compare the two albums, because it's hard to say that one version is better than another, especially when they're so similar. Then again, all it takes is a little less gloss and polish to make a song better. Case in point: "Roman Candle." The album version is a pretty good little number, though it's got a pretty annoying little wah-wah guitar that's rather annoying. The demo version? It's rougher, the guitar part doesn't seem nearly as annoying, and the harmonies on the chorus are not only more pronounced, they're overbearing--and I love it!
The nice thing about getting older is the ability to recognize quality when you hear it. I'll admit that I wasn't open to Free Expression at the time, but now that time's passed, I can hear exactly how wonderful of a record it is. True, it's not their best work--that honor still belongs to Teenage Symphonies to God, but Free Expression is still a fair little masterpiece.