More great music reviews & torrents at www.btbeat.com
Not long after the release of A Northern Soul, the Verve imploded due to friction between vocalist Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe. It looked like the band had ended before reaching its full potential, which is part of the reason why their third album, Urban Hymns — recorded after the pair patched things up in late 1996 — is so remarkable. Much of the record consists of songs Ashcroft had intended for a solo project or a new group, yet Urban Hymns unmistakably sounds like the work of a full band, with its sweeping, grandiose soundscapes and sense of purpose. The Verve have toned down their trancy, psychedelic excursions, yet haven't abandoned them — if anything, they sound more muscular than before, whether it's the trippy "Catching the Butterfly" or the pounding "Come On." These powerful, guitar-drenched rockers provide the context for Ashcroft's affecting, string-laden ballads, which give Urban Hymns its hurt. The majestic "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and the heartbreaking, country-tinged "The Drugs Don't Work" are an astonishing pair, two anthemic ballads that make the personal universal, thereby sounding like instant classics. They just are the tip of the iceberg — "Sonnet" is a lovely, surprisingly understated ballad, "The Rolling People" has a measured, electric power, and many others match their quality. Although it may run a bit too long for some tastes, Urban Hymns is a rich album that revitalizes rock traditions without ever seeming less than contemporary. It is the album the Verve have been striving to make since their formation, and it turns out to be worth all the wait.
4.5 Stars & AMG Album Pick
Theft? Yeah, brilliant theft. Before the Verve sampled that bit of symphonic Stones in "Bitter Sweet Symphony," the riff -- cribbed from an old Muzak platter laughably credited to the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra (as if the Stones' old manager actually waved the baton) -- was just soft cheese. The Verve and their sunken-cheeked singer/lyricist Richard Ashcroft turned it into great theater, a swelling, swaggering pop treatise on heroic determination. "Urban Hymns," the British band's third LP, is an entire album on the subject, a defiantly psychedelic record -- soaked in slipstream guitars and breezy strings, cruising at narcotic-shuffle velocity -- about coping and crashing, about how "The Drugs Don't Work" (as Ashcroft puts it in the album's most ravishing song). What does work: Ashcroft yelling, "Fuck you! Come on!" in the last track over a big riff tide that leaves you stunned, cleansed and jones-ing for more.
In Gravity's Rainbow Thomas Pynchon wrote that paper is used in three ways-- for "shit, money, and The Word." I tend to look at guitars in the same way. File Urban Hymns neatly into the "The Word" file please. Listening to the Verve's third LP mimics the feeling one gets the day after being bedridden-sick forever and walking out into a 59-degree-cool, fresh, lung-numbing October morning to have a picnic of herbal tea, citruses, and damn good donuts with your lover (who was too afraid of catching your bug for the last week).
No need for power chords or stick- a- fork- in- a- fan guitar racket here. The Verve's fencing guitarists layer neon-effervescent wave after neon-effervescent wave of wah wah wash over the blue sands and polished granite boulders of the shifting rhythm section. The beautiful subtlety of the guitars waft up your nose and relax your mind like those giant screw-hooks with which the Egyptians used to take out brains. The Verve's affirmant melodies dance and haunt. Vocalist Richard Ashcroft even looks and sounds like a ghost. Ironic that one of the year's best rock albums moves earth without excessive stroking of the guitar. But this sucker can blow out a Bose. Recommended uses for Urban Hymns-- reading Tolkien, making love, driving at night through Kentucky/Scottish hills, any old time you're tired of the chug and drag of modern rock.
8.9 / 10
Japanese mastering also includes a Demo of "The Drugs Don't Work" with alternate lyrics
Artist/Band: The Verve
Album: Urban Hymns
Release Date: 2000
Genre: Rock, Altrock, Country Rock, FolkRock
Bitrate: VBR --alt-preset extreme