The Verve Pipe (not to be confused with that other band The Verve) formed in 1992 when Brian Vander Ark of Johnny With An Eye and Donny Brown of Water 4 the Pool decided to join forces and bring their bands together. The resulting package would release two independent records before signing with RCA and releasing “Villains”. Their major label debut would feature a re-recorded version of “The Freshmen” which went to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Subsequent albums would fail to capture the same amount of attention and their last record with RCA “Underneath” was (unfortunately) released on September 11, 2001.
After embarking on a solo career, Vander Ark reunited with Brown to release a pair of family-friendly records intended to give parents an alternative to the often brain-dead music marketed towards kids. Finally, with 2014′s “Overboard”, “Underneath” has been given a proper follow-up.
I’ve been a fan of Brian Vander Ark’s work both with The Verve Pipe and solo for quite some time. I didn’t expect to ever see a proper record from them ever again and to be honest “Overboard” is very different from what I was expecting. I shouldn’t be too surprised as aside from Vander Ark, the lineup has undergone a complete change. Even Brown has left the band, though he has a writing and drum credit here.
Instead, it sounds more like an extension of Vander Ark’s solo material which in itself has veered toward a sleepier sound with an emphasis on acoustic guitars and lighter pop fare. Fortunately he still has a knack for pulling hummable pop songs out of his ass, with tracks like “What You Did To Me” and “Carry On” as evidence. The album plays with some new sounds. Most notably the call-to-arms (sung with Vander Ark’s tongue firmly in his cheek) “Latchkey Kid” which features a wild string section. The title track “Overboard” (co-written by actor/musician Jeff Daniels) is darker and moodier than anything else the group has ever produced. The songs written by bassist Joel Ferguson and Randy Sly aren’t quite as strong and are fortunately left to the end of the record.
Vander Ark has a distinct voice and writing style, so while it’s not the roaring rock record I was hoping for (though “Here in the Dark” is a definite step in the right direction) it still feels very familiar and comfortable. As with all of Vander Ark’s records, “Overboard” is a very listenable and enjoyable piece of pop songwriting.