Urban Hymns review by Verve

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  • Released: Sep 30, 1997
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 10 Gem
  • Users' score: 10 (27 votes)
Verve: Urban Hymns
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Overall Impression — 10
Quite a bunch they were,this bunch from Wigan, England. Arriving in the early 90's on the tail end of 'Madchester' with Bluesey rock and psychadellia on the top of thier musical agenda, this band became best mates with Oasis,earned fame overnight for massive over indulgence and their 'troubled' quote' "Barmy and mad" lead singer Richard Ashcroft's strange behaivour. Despite thier successes,they were still not 100% solid as a group. There was tension, and this was thier undoing. After the band split in 1995 following the release of their superb 'E' influenced indie rock/psychadellia album 'A Northern Soul', Verve(or 'The Verve' as they were now known due to being forced to changed their name due to a legal clash with a American record company) re-formed two weeks later on the quiet and started to develop a series of songs that the bands troubled leader Richard Ashcroft had written for use on his solo debut record for the whole band to record. The issue of what his debut album would have been like if Ashcroft had recorded these songs alone is a moot point. However, that never happened and when Ascroft recorded these songs and a few new ones with the rest of the band through 1996,the resulting album and the songs off of it songs passed into Brit-Pop folklore,earned the band thier only number one album and singles,got the band more fans than they'd ever had before...And then,in true rock and roll fashion,Ashcrofts relationship with his band, particularly with guitarist Nick McCabe (Now in Indie band The Shining)fell apart and the band split for good. Which leaves us with thier last will and testament,the both highly popular and highly controversial'Urban Hymns'. This album contains what many British music critics regard as possibly the greatest opening track of all time in the shape of the firts single from the album 'Bittersweet Symphony'. This heavily orchestra lead song which borrows heavily from The Rolling Stones, has a very uplifting feel that is bound to get you humming. The instruments flow in and out, Ashcroft sings like he means it and, whats even better is that you can pin whatever meaning to it you want.Ashcroft wrote in such a way that it could connect with anyone. This is some achievement. And so the tone is set for the remaining 12 tracks. Songs that are somehow personal to Ashcroft,but also somehow things we can all connect to. The songs contain hazy lazy sound effects in small doses, lots of unusual instrumentation,more orchestras and, of course, the troubled singers musings on love life and everything, as is the norm with records by the Verve. The songs are all on a fairly epic scale, grandiose, sweeping, with lots of depth in the sound and some well placed soundscaping to heighten the experience further. The song in question that became the bands secong most notorious song (after '....Symphony') was the number one hit single 'The Drugs Don't Work'. This song is sung as a harrowing examination of drugs affecting a relationship, but for Ashcroft(who was heavily under an A-class influence for most of the albums recording) it was very ironic. Despite it's very graphic descriptions of death, coming down, trying to kick the habit and the opinions of loved ones unlike, say, the happy and buoyant 'Loaded' by Primal Scream, his affirmation that 'Now the drugs don't work/They just make you worse/but I know I'll see your face again' during the chorus of the song is a very hollow statement. When he was asked about if the song was good enough to stop him taking drugs,he replied "Of course not!". The rest of the album is more or less uniformly excellent, with a mix of rock, acoustic odes, keyboard based songs about 'Talking to God in a phone box', 'Lucid dreams', Lucky men and other strange things making up the remainder of the album. If this wasn't so poppy, it could be considered the modern version of 'Dark Side Of The Moon', albeit with more drugs and more tunes. It's risky territory, and we all know that drugs can numb creativity, but The Verve harnessed them and made a convincing trippy record about life, love and everything. In a way, that's one of the best things about this record. The band knew what they were doing was dangerous, knew that they were risking thier creditability by trying to out Oasis Oasis and becoming more commercial, but they did it anyway. Although the bands hardcore fans were disappointed that the band were now more commercial, most of the music public disagreed and made the album number one in the UK and made it go top 50 in the USA. I recommend this as a post Brit-Pop artifact,a good soothing listen and one of those albums that you can only listen to at certain times in your life when you need to re-evaluate the questions as well as the answers.

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