Renegade Good Intentions: THE VERLAINES


"The roadside is littered with thousands of rock and roll bands that nobody's heard, and for most of us, that's probably a good thing. The fact is a lot of bands don't deserve to be heard in the first place. But every once in a while you find in the assorted debris a special band that works so tirelessly, creates works of such enormous and lasting value, and yet is so routinely ignored that you can only shake your head at the fickle vagaries of the music world." -- David Fisher, on the Verlaines, Filler Magazine 1999, nabbed from a Verlaines website

It's not often on a music blog that you'll see the writer admit to near total ignorance about a band they're recommending. Today is one of those days, and The Verlaines are one of those bands.

When I was a senior in high school (1993-94), a charity CD called NO ALTERNATIVE -- which benefited an AIDS charity called the Red Hot organization -- was released. That was a pretty hot CD at the time, featuring all the "cool kid" bands of the moment, like the Breeders, the Beastie Boys, Pavement, and an uncredited Nirvana. I wrote for the school newspaper at the time and reviewed the disc, and I remember remarking about how one of the best tracks on the CD came from a virtually unknown New Zealand band that had been making music since 1981: The Verlaines.

I don't know what it was about "Heavy 33" that appealed to me so much back then. I was still into punk, grunge, hardcore... all the gritty, angsty teenager stuff. Maybe it was the heaving, ominous droning of the guitars, or fatalistic lyrics like "I can force you to smile / But I don't reach your eyes / Like the moon in the day / silently fades / That which formerly shined is obliterated." It's intense. A few months ago, I was working late and listening to a web simulcast of a radio station in Seattle. I sent them an email request to hear this song and it gave me chills when the DJ answered my request. I imagined thousands of people in the Pacific Northwest hearing this on the radio for what was probably the first time it was ever played on air. It made me smile.

I've seen some descriptions of the band on the web that include influences like The Ramones and Bob Dylan. I think this is a pretty apt description of the combination of their sound, especially on the only full-length of theirs that I own, HALLELUJAH ALL THE WAY HOME. I first heard this record my freshman year in college, when I began working at KCOU, the University of Missouri's student radio station. I remembered the band's track from the previous year and decided to give the CD some air time without having ever heard it. I cued up "Lying in State" and soon, a new favorite song was born. The rest of the album is good, but this song just leaps out at you like the loudest acoustic guitar song since the Stones' "Street Fighting Man." And what loser in love can't sympathize with the opening verse: "Everything that I've done has been judged on if the woman was won. Yeah, all that I do, more or less, is for some women's sake"?

If your computer can play .m4a files, you should also take a second to download Superchunk's cover of "Lying in State," from their INCIDENTAL MUSIC collection of b-sides.

If any of you readers are out there online and you stumble across any other songs by this band, I ask that you think of me and maybe send along a link or a file if you can. I've always wanted to hear more from these guys (lead singer Graeme Downes has a solo career these days), but never knew where to start or where to find them in the stores.

Nice, informative site with lyrics, tabs, pics, etc.
An old link to the band's first label.
Filler magazine's profile of Verlaines' Graeme Downes, with some great notes on the band's discography



blair said...

Kudos for this. Great band, sadly under-rated. Did you manage to get hold of any more Verlaines material?

Scott McKenzie said...

Totally agree with bg. Hugely underrated and 6 great full length albums. I am a devotee but can't get a copy of their "Over The Moon" album for love nor money. Would love to trade a burned copy for anything in my collection. Happy to negotiate. scottmck88@connexus.net.au

Scott McKenzie said...

Dylan. You need to get hold of more Verlaines if "Hallelujah All The Way Home" is all you've got. "Ready To Fly", "Way Out Where" and "Bird Dog" are far superior in my view.