The Verve Pipe disappeared after their 2001 release “Underneath” tanked. It had the misfortune of being released on September 11 and the band took it as a bad omen. Despite being a bit of an unheralded pop masterpiece, it didn’t come close to matching the success of their 1996 album “Villains” which rode on the crest of its huge chart-topping single “The Freshmen.” Free of his obligations to his record company and his bandmates, frontman Brian Vander Ark released his first solo record “Resurrection” in 2003. It was a mishmash of songs that had been written for The Verve Pipe and other songs he had written giving it an inconsistent feel.
“Angel, Put Your Face On” followed in 2006 and functions as Vander Ark’s first departure from The Verve Pipe’s polished, pop sound. Instead, Vander Ark was able to give his songs an almost cozy feel with some very personal storytelling and more stripped down arrangements. While The Verve Pipe underwent more than a few changes stylistically over their lifespan (they began as a post-punk outfit then got sucked into the post-grunge maelstrom before emerging as a polished pop-rock act) “Angel” allowed Vander Ark to show his singer-songwriter side.
No two songs are alike. “Nothing But Time”, consists of an acoustic guitar and a modest string accompaniment and nothing more. The sparse “History”, which observes the process in which infatuation dissolves into nothingness, makes use of a simple quiet drumbeat with space-guitars layered over it. “Based Upon The Way” is a sweet little love song dressed up with slide guitar. Then there’s the harrowing “Another Good Man” told from the perspective of a man on his deathbed, innocently placed in the middle of the album, and one of the most emotionally difficult songs Vander Ark has ever written.
I was a big fan of The Verve Pipe in the 90′s and 2000′s. I spent the summer of 1999 with their ill-fated self-titled record in my discman as I lived on my own in Redmond, WA. I snuck into their show at Lee’s Palace despite being well under the legal-drinking age. I tracked down hard-to-find promo CD’s (85 on 31, anyone?) and got involved with bootleg trading. I had a somewhat active account on their website’s message board and I was crushed when they called it quits. Vander Ark going solo was consolation enough as “Resurrection” sounded enough like a Verve Pipe album. Heck, it even had a re-recording of “1229 Sheffield”, one of The Verve Pipe’s best songs! But “Angel, Put Your Face On” was such a departure it took a couple listens through to get a handle of what was going on: Brian Vander Ark’s musical transformation.
With “Angel, Put Your Face On”, Vander Ark was able to distinguish himself as a songwriter from the band that he had been a part of for so long. He launched a successful tour of house-shows titled “Lawnchairs and Living Rooms” where he took private bookings from fans to play at their house parties and BBQs. With a selection of songs that translated nicely to just a single acoustic guitar, Vander Ark was able to carve out a new career path. He started selling cd-rs of his live shows on his website including one of his “Lawnchairs and Living Rooms” gigs.
Vander Ark released two other solo records in 2008 and 2011. The Verve Pipe eventually reunited and released a pair of kid-friendly “family” albums as well as a proper follow-up titled “Overboard”. But none of those records ever approached the beauty and intimacy “Angel”.