Resurgence of the alternative wave of rock popularized back in the early 1990’s in the United Kingdom coinciding with the cultural revival that was underway and emerged as “Britpop” which intended on being fairly approachable to the commoners and relevant to the mainstream British culture. Britpop largely stormed out of the UK as a reaction to the US-led grunge music and the two have been heralded as opposing musical forces. Among all the bands that contributed to embodiment of neo-psychedelic swells of guitar with the melodramatic convergence of pop rock and shoegaze, “The Verve” still remains worthy of generous attention despite their short-lived career often associated with the front-man, songwriter and vocalist for the band, Richard Ashcroft‘s inflated ego. Formed by college mates Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, and Peter Salisbury in 1989, their fresh and minty jams are what the commercial scene of rock music owes a lot to. The guitar-driven solace of their melodies and Ashcroft’s cutting vocals fine-tuned to resonate with the shoegaze sensibility delivered some of the most memorable sing-along tunes of the 90’s. The ornate and hyperbolic themes like love, longing, euphoria, music and sedation mainlined with surreal sonic goodness and bittersweet melancholy navigated the distinct arcs of their vaporous sound. Accredited to their masterful production and genre-based knowledge of the 90’s, in no time they found their niche in the britpop, alt-rock market.
Choosing three best albums out of their discography comprising of four studio albums in entirety was considerably easy. However, the discreet mixing of tracks and inculcation of ambient atmospherics set every album apart from the other which demands a serious intellectual expertise.
3, A Northern Soul
Composed around the intoxicating simplicity and sharpness of acoustic ballads for the most part, The Verve’s second studio album “A Northern Soul” is filled with and bourgeois psychedelic influences. The magnetism of the album opener “A New Decade” is built upon an array of dizzy guitar hooks and raving vocals. Lyrics like “The youth coming up and making you dance, ’cause I’ve got some living inside of me, so come on I could use the company” are very reaffirming and does justice to the feel-good vibe of the song. “This Is Music” is dissonant and largely a noise rock number. “On Your Own” marks the point where the album is set in the direction of mellow string acoustics and a sadder demeanor. A sense of abandonment, loneliness and complaining is projected with a halcyon vision. However, the low-spirits subjected to heartbreak on “So It Goes” is ubiquitously depressing. “A Northern Soul” written about Oasis’ front-man Noel Gallagher floats in the haze of shrieking guitars and a peachy bass. “I’m gonna die alone in bed, this is a tale of a northern soul, looking for his way back home” versed in Ashcroft’s expressive vocals adds to the structural genius and emotional pacing of the song. “Brainstorm Interlude” is largely an instrumental with a fuzzy melody followed by two back-to-back beautiful ballads ‘Drive You Home” and “History” citing sermons of a doomed lover about helplessness and unreciprocated love immersed in the soulful magma of acoustic guitars and a wrist-slitting tranquility making up for potential tearjerkers. The opening verse “Life’s an ocean, too much commotion, too much emotion, dragging me down, living for today, don’t have time to pray, ready for the game, take a line of fickle flame” is a piece of very well-versed poetry that not only delivers the essence of the song about the apathy of life but waves a little flag of truce with the ending track “Stormy Clouds” which is bleak, dark and zones out into oblivion as it unfolds. “A Northern Soul” gleefully portrays the innerworkings of an emotional wreck and a hopeless romantic in a brutally simplistic way.
2, Storm In Heaven
The Verve’s debut album “Storm In Heaven” can easily be regarded as one of the best shoegaze albums of all time. It is enriched with spaced-out, distorted guitars and breezy repercussions that are universally in proximity with the art of shoegazing. “Star Sail”, “Slide Away” and “Already There” have pensive songwriting that pulsate with summery guitars and wishful lyrics. The bass-oriented stompbox mechanics are utilized to create the perfectly dark and ravenous habitat for the heartsick romantics out there. The lush, dreamy tune of “Beautiful Mind” and “Virtual World” draped in the fabric of escapism finds itself very close to bands like Slowdive on the musical spectrum. “She’s breathing life into lonely dead stars. Have you ever seen it? I ain’t seen nothing at all” symbolizes shimmery-eyed love and chastity. “Make It ‘Til Monday” and “Blue” strongly hinted towards narcotic escape and tripping hard are honed delicately to be in sync with the drone-laden guitars and ambient delays. “The Sun, The Sea” and “Butterfly” dabble in chaotic symphonies with jangling saxophone harmonics pitched in for a change. “See You In The Next One”, “Endless Life”, “Where The Geese Go” and “No Come Down” melodically and lyrically symbolize the zenith of a hallucinogen-induced coma with somnolent and mind-bending gearing. “Storm In Heaven” is what the name signifies, a tempestuous turbulence in a place as serene as the heaven above which artfully justifies the implied oxymoron.
1, Urban Hymns
Released in 1997, “Urban Hymns” is a strong contender for the greatest album of all time, in my honest opinion. It serves as a detox formula to the lingering trance of the former Verve albums, “Storm In Heaven” to be more specific. Often deemed synonymous with the groundbreaking single “Bittersweet Symphony”, there remain so many multidimensional facets and sonic twists to this record which are more than usually foreshadowed or have gone painfully unnoticed. That rhetoric aside, “Bittersweet Symphony” with those opening strokes of majestic violins will forever have a nostalgic worth authorized to a few rock numbers in this ever-expanding world of music. It elaborates the powerlessness one can’t help but feel over the rigidity of life and its consuming struggles. “Sonnet” is written about the complex subject of love and resonates with Ashcroft’s swooning, heartfelt vocals with a main chorus “Yes, there’s love if you want it. Don’t sound like no sonnet, my lord!” which fits right in. “Catching the Butterfly” reflects the childlike fancies and the innate sense of joy which dances on an undulating psychedelic groove of britpop. “Rolling People” is a song I can do without but had it been a bit shorter, it might’ve worked out just fine. “Drugs Don’t Work” is an acoustic ballad defaming drugs and confessing to find eternal peace only by reuniting with your deceased loved one in the life hereafter. The phantasmagorical interlude “Neon Wilderness” offers to the album is ephemeral yet ecstatic. “One Day”, “Space and Time”, “Velvet Morning” and “Lord I Guess I’ll Never Know” are crafted around McCabe’s delicate guitaring and Ashcroft’s tenor vocal quality with reshuffling themes like love, life, relationships and dreams. Meaningful verses like “You’ve gotta tie yourself to the mast my friend and the storm will end” in “One Day” for instance, quotes human selflessness and liberation from cyclic battles of life in return. “This Time” is a great upbeat alt-rock song. “No time for sad lament. A wasted life is bitter spent, so rise into the light. In or out of time, gonna rise straight through the light” intently reveals the optimism he’s beaming with at this point. The emotional appeal and the haunting analogies of “Weeping Willow” are directly indicative of suicide contemplation. Still, for me it’s unarguably one of the best Verve songs ever recorded. The pacifying guitar chords and the fluttering bassline adds to the sentimental quotient of the song as it dissolves the sorrowful rhyming to progress into the very warm and blissful “Lucky Man” headlining a primal sense of happiness. The violins waltzing in the outro sound so redeeming and inspirational, it is almost unreal. Finally, the album closes with “Come On” and “Deep Freeze”, the latter giving the album an atmospherically wired finishing touch. “Urban Hymns” is pivotal to The Verve’s transitory career that polished their sound essentially as britpop and alt-rock that rewards the listener with positive vibes and a “start fresh” ideology. Primarily evolving from the shoegaze and indie rock variants, The Verve showcased a more mature songwriting tendency with this record that successfully garnered both, a great commercial reception and critical acclaim which is not warranted to a lot of artists in this business.