The Verlaines: Corporate Moronic

The Verlaines are funny, artistic, and crafty. But they're corporate morons.

The Verlaines

Corporate Moronic

US Release: Import
UK Release: Import
Label: Dunedin Music

The Verlaines have flirted with international attention over the last 25 years, releasing one record (1996's Over the Moon) on Columbia. Lead member Graeme Downes put out his strong solo album Hammers and Anvils through Matador in 2001. The band hasn't caught on, though, and it's not too surprising. A lecturer at the University of Otago, Downes's central aesthetic involves combining disparate elements of music, merging lowbrow and highbrow forms (if those categories persist). You get some classical, some pop. Maybe some Tin Pan Alley next to some harder rock. The resulting music is complex and highly entertaining, but like his bemused narrator in "Oh Yeah, All Right," Downes might be left reminding himself, "My dog appreciates my genius."

The dog, who must be from Dunedin, has the right idea, and new album Corporate Moronic furthers the case for Downes as a top-tier songwriter. Musically, this one keeps more the rock approach of Way Out Where, especially on songs like "Wanting", but that's simply relative to some of the earlier records. "Tomorrow Without You" slyly -- and, ahem, positively -- references Bob Dylan before turning into an almost country number. There's some jazz underpinnings on a cut like "The Way I Love You," a friendly reminder of the sound of Hammers.

Lyrically, the disc touches a number of points, but the casually challenging song structures hide an essential anger (generally targeted at corporate and capitalist culture). The title of "The Situation Is Hopeless (Not Serious)" only somewhat reflects the artist's outlook on this album. The facetiousness carries over to a morbidly funny title like "Socrates for a Day (Then I'll Go Quietly)", but it only partially masks expressions of cynicism and frustration.

In the cabaret-bounce of "Socrates" Downes sings, "Our music misses the bus / It's ugly and bent out of shape / It's not fit for kissing, nor even raping". On the surface, the lines suggest a self-effacing look at the Verlaines' body of work. Then he turns it around: "Such that the likes of he with his markets free / May never have a use for we." I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the diction, but it's a successful and brutal attack on corporate culture. When Downes earlier described his music as having "no utility", it seemed like a simple economic play on words, but he's leading us to realize the political usefulness of such tunes, especially when they become this pointed.

Other tracks are more precisely topical, including "Paratai Drive" (described in the liner notes as "a musical Ponzi scheme in one act") with its take on "Wall Street gangsters" and the banking crisis as well as "Paraphrasing Hitler", which, of course, turns into a commentary on "George's war". These songs are solid, and certainly more artistic than typical protest fare, but fortunately the Verlaines don't stick to close to the anti-company line. The romantic cuts, such as they are, remain bleak and doubting, but utterly moving. The exception is the remarkable "The Way I Love You", which is the type of honest, uncertain, but strong love song we could use more of. More darkly in echo, "Forever and a Day" dances us into that space across which marrying lovers might not reconcile. "Tomorrow Without You" turns the Dylan-to-country style into a package of Beatles allusions in which the narrator replaces hurt with bitterness while ending a relationship. A half century later, it's a final, emphatic answer song to Sam Cooke's "Rome (Wasn't Built in a Day)". This relationship's over, with resolve.

In the politics and emotional strain, it's possible to miss Downes's humor, but it's essential not to. In one of the top moments, he gives us research instructions, in this case to "google Maungatua" and to "google Jerusalem and Baxter". It's a funny aside, but it's an extremely elegant move on a formal level. He gives these instructions in "Rootless Cosmopolitan". The idea is to help us find "God's mountain" and "Jerusalem", but the title man, despite being cosmopolitan, is directing us to a narrow view focused only on Dunedin. It's ironic, but develops the chorus, which explains that "We're always blown back to / Back to square one."

The moment captures the sensibility of the Verlaines well. It's funny, it's precise, and it's very crafty. Corporate Moronic, as Downes knew when he named the record, is neither corporate nor moronic. It's a difficult position to take if you're intent is to sell records. Fortunately this music has no utility, so selling's of no concern, and there are simpler ways to get a coaster.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less

Mixing some bland "alternate" and "film" versions of Whitney Houston's six songs included on The Bodyguard with exemplary live cuts, this latest posthumous collection for the singer focuses on pleasing hardcore fans and virtually no one else.

No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it's still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.