Song Review: I Started A Joke by V.E.

 In Features, Reviews

It’s amazing the type of breakthroughs bands stumble onto when covering a song. Tina Turner sped up a roots rock song to turn herself into the original diva of music. Talking Heads infused punk sensibility with R&B to show the world they weren’t a flash in the pan. Red Hot Chili Peppers amplified the funk and fervor of a moving soul song to finally break through to the mainstream. Even Johnny Cash stripped down a caustic angst anthem to show he had more life to give in the twilight of his career.

For V.E., their latest single, a cover of the Bee Gee’s 1968 song “I Started A Joke,” equally serves as a breakthrough for the band, as they turn the original dreamy folk ditty into an art-rock declaration. Such assertive talent not only resuscitates the band (it’s their first release since 2018), it further establishes themselves as a unique act within Richmond’s teeming musical scene.

When we last heard from V.E. in 2018, they were interestingly enough also doing a cover, tackling The Flamingo’s 1958 song “I Only Have Eyes For You” (which is technically also a cover, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole right now). It was a fun deconstruction of a doo-wop standard, emanating straight from a garage of rock experimentation. But listen to it alongside “I Started A Joke,” and you can see the bold strides the duo has made in four long years, even if those years were marked by inactivity from the band formerly known as Various Eggs.

Today, the band’s art-rock umbrella includes much more than the alt-rock inclinations of their previous work. Listen closely to “I Started A Joke” and you’ll notice some clear krautrock influence in the melody and rhythm. It’s not exactly Can or Neu! roaming around in experimentation for ten minutes — V.E. actually performs their cover in less time than the original — but you can still feel that hypnotic beat humming around a roots-rock melody. When the song approaches its most raucous moment on a thrilling, almost jarring bridge breakdown, the band still feels like its drifting away from alt-rock and instead embracing the post-punk backbone inherent in any and all art rock released over the last 40 years.

Most importantly though, none of those departures feels out of place. Each splits the song wide open and allows us to re-examine the dense lyrics that the three Gibb brothers composed. The climax is less the triumphant epiphany that was originally envisioned, and more a melancholy acceptance, something that feels particularly apt considering all that transpired in the last four years since we’ve heard from the band. When singer Lawrence Joseph delivers that last stanza as drummer Tricia Kupec begins clicking towards the end, no weight is lifted off our shoulders like it might have been in 1968. Instead, it’s acknowledged, laid bare for us all to see, the first crucial step before truly moving forward.

And moving forward is exactly what V.E. is doing by the sounds of this single. They’re marching onward to their own hypnotic, irascible beat as we all follow close behind, hoping to hear any bit of their next riveting development.

”I Started A Joke” is out now via Mending Wall Records, available to stream and purchase at Bandcamp (link) and other streaming platforms.

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