Friday, September 03, 2010

FDF Volume 2 Issue 198 - The Verve - Urban Hymns

By: March

Album - Urban Hymns
Artist - The Verve
Key Players - Simon Jones - bass. Peter Salisbury - drums. Nick McCabe - lead guitar. Simon Tong - guitar and keyboards. Richard Ashcroft - vocals/guitar.
Produced By - Youth, The Verve and Potter

Release Date
- September 29, 1997

What caused me to blow off the dust? - Barring the big single that you can't escape I can't even tell you the last time I listened to this all the way through. Also, by request of some readers trying to be a little less obscure on my picks...well for now.

Overview - Wigan, England band "The Verve" were formed in 1990 and by 1991 they were wowing live audiences. They'd release their first record in 1992 and there would be three singles released from in in the UK. By 1994 the band had a few more releases and were touring but drugs and alcohol began to take their toll. The band was also facing legal issues with the jazz label "Verve". The band released a record in 1995 and decided to break up, only to reform a few months later. Then came Urban Hymns in 1997. The band became world wide hit makers but with that tensions would arise and by 1999 the band had split up again. They'd re-form yet again with original members and tour with massive success but by 2009 it was really all over....for now. With all this the band received critical praise for the record and it would make best of year list and decade lists. It would go platinum in the United States but 8 times platinum in the UK.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - The album opens with the band most well known single "Bitter Sweet Symphony". This song is famous for the "loop" and has been sampled time and time again. The Verve got hit with a lawsuit from the Rolling Stones over the use of the sample, but its not the main loop you hear. Underneath the sample is some strings, that was lifted from a symphony orchestra version of the Stones song. The Verve have been rumored to received no royalties from the song . due to this lawsuit. It is hard to really talk up this song when it is so well known and when you listen you wonder "why it works", but it just does. Listen to how "simple" musically it is. The sample might be the most complex part of the song. "Sonnet" opens with acoustic guitar before the full band comes in. The track is laid back and Ashcroft has a unique voice. Strong, but hesitant at times. As the chorus approaches the band gets a little more rowdy, but it falls back in to place with some slide guitar and piano fills. "The Rolling People" has more a strong organ intro from Tong. The full band comes in after 20 or so seconds and for the first time you feel the band is ready to get things moving. The tempo is good with Salisbury putting down a basic back beat. Jones fills the void with bass but the guitars tandem off each other. McCabe seems to take command and Ashcroft has a particular drawl to his voice. The percussion comes out as the band has a good interlude before bringing the song back to the early progression. McCabe gets a solo again which is just the right length and the band has almost a jam session to wrap it up in full. "The Drugs Don't Work" starts with a solo guitar and Ashcroft. Its a laid back, quiet song that is introspective of the bands past issues with the subject matter. By the second verse the guitars a subtle and there is some quiet keyboard fills. Ashcroft repeats the line "I know I'll see your face again" as the full band comes in and it gets orchestrated again. There are some call and response vocals as well as harmonies that ads a real nice touch. It is easy to see why this song is covered by other artists today. "Catching the Butterfly" has a deeper bass line and swirling guitars as the drums climb up. Once more Ashcroft keeps a low profile singing in hushed tones but its the Jones bass work that seems to get pushed up in the mix. McCabe does some nice guitar work and the song is a lot more atmospheric than a "straight ahead rocker". The delay pedals are used and some feedback is evident at times, but it again doesn't steal the focus of the track. Once again we do have a stronger jam session on the backside of the track. The band feeds off one another but no one instrument really takes off. The drum beat keeps it all in check and Ashcroft chimes in with a quick few words. A trippy and great track. Guitars slowly get to work at the start of "Neon Wilderness". It is slow to build with the drums and guitars seemingly looking to find a strong foothold. There is not a strong sense of a "verse" either as the vocals are hushed and looped over each other. Its is more a throw away track. "Space and Time" gets back to the feel of the album. Guitars once more flip between acoustic and electric and Tong plays some nice chords. Ashcroft at this time pushes himself more vocally. He has a great voice and only from time to time will he go up an octave and when he does it, it really stands out. This has my vote as strongest song on the record (at least so far). Sure Bittersweet is good, but this just seems to sum up the band. Strong vocals, tight band with a good sense of song structure. It could have, and should have been huge. We switch back to the more mellow formula on
"Weeping Willow". Guitars have more reverb and slide across the strings while the bass and drums hold steady. It is a far cry from a throw away, but what you hear is what you get. A pretty straight forward tune. Another single from the album was "Lucky Man". Acoustic guitar and organ are the focus as the song begins. By the time Ashcroft sings it falls to the tempo and acoustic guitars are complimented with organ fills and the occasional electric guitar fill. Ashcroft soars on the back side of the chorus. The tambourine shake has you tapping your feet in time longing for the sing-a-long of the chorus. There is an electric guitar solo and the vocal over dubs begin as the song heads towards the end. It builds with strings and keyboard fills, the song ends very strong. Easy to understand why this was a single from the record. Tong plays a few bars of music on keyboards to start out "One Day". The track is another more somber track. The laid back drum beat is complimented with the guitars and keyboards, but it seems hesitant to break its formula. It is a pretty song, but feels "safe" at the same time. The more up tempo "This Time" is a nice change. Although not crazy, the vocals are sung a little quicker and the percussive instruments are used to set the tempo. Guitars burst quick notes but it has one of those tempos you notice more the music than vocals. It has a particular bounce to it. "Velvet Morning" uses the slide guitar with an acoustic playing along. Salisbury and Jones keep things in check and Ashcroft comes in with some compressed sounding vocals. He still sounds good, but the compression feels and sounds a little off. The song is a mellow track and from time to time you'll feel it wants to get rolling. Come the chorus it does move a little, but the band is cautious once more. As the song works towards the end it gets more of the full band treatment and the band grows more tense, but once again, they maintain their direction The liner notes and track listing indicate that "Come On" as the final track. It is a slower swirling intro of guitars before the bass and drums come in. The track grows and grows with a lot of guitar work and a big wall of drum sound. It continues to just build with Ashcroft shouting at the listener towards the end. The band all seem to get a workout and it suits them well as an album you'd think. After the track ends there is about 7 minutes of silence before the track "Deep Freeze" is revealed. Its an instrumental trippy song that is only about 2 minutes long. Babies seem to cry in the background as spacy bleeps and bloops appear over the guitar. Some may not realize it is even there, but you don't need to go out of your way to dig out this track.

Where are they now? - Richard Ashcroft said in an interview in July of 2010 the band was "over for good". McCabe and Jones have started a new project "The Black Ships". Salisbury has kept busy, he was the touring drummer for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He owns and runs a drum shop as well and was the studio drummer for each of Ashcrofts solo albums. Tong is currently a member of Erland and the Carnival and Transmission. He has also played as part of Blur, Gorillaz and the unnamed super group responsible for The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Richard Ashcroft has released a three solo records and has formed a new band
RPA & The United Nations of Sound, which released an album on 19 July 2010 but it has not been released stateside.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - The only time I saw the band live was July 27, 1995 at the Paradise in Boston. Honestly I went for the opening band Hum more than the Verve. This tour was well before Urban Hymns even was out and the band was having some drug issues. The stage was packed with gear and there was just so many lights for a smaller stage. The only other thing I can confirm about the night is I didn't stay until the end.

FDF Overall Take - My live experience aside it is easy to hear why this record struck a chord with so many. There are some real shining moments on this record and the stuff I didn't care for much others would probably love. This is probably already in your collection...and for good reason. Check it out once more.

The official site here and also, the myspace page.

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!
The official video for Bittersweet Symphony
The same tune, only live, and in front of a massive audience
Official video for Lucky Man as well as Sonnet

Finally, a very cool cover of "The Drugs Don't Work" done by Ben Harper.


At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is a shame they could be upfront about the sample, because i agree there was some sparks in this album and it would have been nice to see them grow.

At 11:21 PM, Anonymous iKent said...

Talk about an album due for a reissue. No less than a half dozen incredible b-sides that are worth pursuing: Country Song, Lord I Guess I'll Never Know, So Sister, Echo Bass, Monte Carlo, This Could Be My Moment, and so on. 1997 was such a solid year for music.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger March to the Sea said...

iKent..i have a feeling it will get that big re-issue at some point!


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