The Verve – Urban Hymns

There is a certain stigma associated with being a “one-hit wonder”, and that is that one-hit wonders are often that way for a reason. Today, we will be talking about one of my favorite one-hit wonders, and by “we” I mean that, once again, my sister will be contributing to this writeup thing (Hi guys!), wherever there are italics that aren’t just me emphasizing key parts of sentences. So here we go:

They said there'd be chairs here... this show sucks! Come on, boys, let's start our own band, a band that provides chairs for the flamin' audience!

The Verve are that very unique brand of English rock, and that is English rock that sounds like all the other English rock, but with a twist, that twist being that this band is called The Verve. What is a verve? I have no idea, and looking it up now would mean deleting this entire sentence, and I’ve already committed myself to making this sentence as long as possible, so no luck there. This mysterious Verve is mainly centered around its singer, Richard Ashcroft, and his enormous legs.

The album starts off with a song that hopefully everyone has seen by now, or at least heard, and you haven’t seen or heard it, may I invite you to stop reading this writeup immediately and going to the internet to see “Bittersweet Symphony” and then come back never again. This may seem harsh, but if you made it this far, it means you’ve already seen and heard “Bittersweet Symphony” and thus we’re on the same page here.

“Bittersweet Symphony” is one of those songs that is systematically perfect, as far as dreary British rock songs go, which makes it pretty good. The song starts with a set of strings playing a very stolen hook from a Rolling Stones song, a set of strings that would cost a band all of their money and future success, money and future success that would go to the very worthy cause of making sure The Rolling Stones have an extra few millions with which to make another terrible album about wanting even more money. In fact, even before this debacle, the song “Bittersweet Symphony” seem to be about money, the need for it, and the fact that the band would like some of that sweet, sweet money. Really though, this song is so catchy with its double snare hits, howling reverb’d guitars, and Richard Ashcroft’s endearingly worthless singing on top of those already golden strings, you would think the band wouldn’t need any more hits or even solid tracks on the album to sell millions, and you’d be right!

So what are the other 12 songs on the album actually like? Well, let’s take it on a track by track basis.

First we’ve got the acoustic guitar strumming of “Sonnet”, and that’s pretty special right? In all seriousness though, this song does have strings, they’re in the chorus, and thus this song is also grand and important.

“The Rolling People” is a kind of funky rock number that is actually really fun. It’s called “The Rolling People” because Mr. Ashcroft is kind of slyly referring to the band from which he captured the best part of his best song by playing a song that sounds NOTHING like The Rolling Stones.

Then we’ve got the acoustic guitar strumming of “The Drugs Don’t Work”, with its very special section of strings. The strings aren’t in the chorus this time, they’re in the verses. They’re also in the choruses.

There aren’t a lot of strings OR acoustic guitar strummings in “Catching The Butterfly”, it’s way more of a funky rock number that is quite really fun. I would go so far as to say that the interesting trippy beat and bass-line of this U2-tastic number are far more fun than actually trying to catch butterflies, those bugs are very elusive.

“Neon Wilderness” kind of gives the listener a 2 minute break from the acoustic strumming and funky rock to remind us that we are nearly half an album away from “Bittersweet Symphony”, and unless we do something quick, it’ll be another half an album before we get there again. A dreadful thought, indeed!

Next we’ve got the acoustic strumming of “Space And Time”, only instead of strings we get an army of ambient guitar things and… jeeze is this song really 5 minutes long?

Then it’s time for “Weeping Willow”, which is kind of a strummy number that contains ambient guitar things and is only a little over 4 1/2 minutes long. This is the kind of song that begs the question: Where did those strings go? They were lovely.

Well, if you were asking for more acoustic strumming, then “Lucky Man” should please you as only several of the other songs on this album can. This one features ambient guitar noises and a lovely vocal melody that borders on funky.

A keyboard opens the song “One Day”, a 5 minute long song featuring ambient guitar things and a lovely vocal melody. This song is followed by a funky rock number called “This Time”, which is only 4 minutes long before subsiding to let the acoustic strumming of “Velvet Morning” come through with its funky ambient guitar things.

Finally, the funky rock number “Come On” assails us strummingly with its ambient guitar force, and indeed the title is quite telling, as this track is apparently 15 minutes long. Oh wait, that’s my Zune screwing up again, this song is a comparatively merciful 5 minutes. (No, brother, it is actually 15 minutes long; it’s got one of those “secret songs” at the end where we get to heard spacey chime-y nonsense and a baby crying. It’s kind of annoying because I love the song, but I always have to follow-up on it and purposefully skip to the next song.)

I wish I had somethin witty and clever to add to this fanciful write-up, but I’m afraid all I can say is that, indeed, most of the songs do sound alike. Since Bittersweet Symphony is in my top 5 favorite songs of all time, I went ahead and purchased the entire album, dreading as I did so, that it was a one-hit-wonder of doom. However, as I am a fan of both ambient sounds, and endearingly worthless English singers with long legs, I have to say that this album became one of my favorite “chill” albums very quickly, which made it worth the investment. I don’t recommend the ablum if you are under the impression that all of the songs will sound in any way like Bittersweet Symphony, but if you like other things, and especially Richard Ashcroft, you may enjoy giving it a whirl.

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6 Responses

  1. The stolen material is not from a Rolling Stones song, but an orchestrated version of a Rolling Stones song, “The Last Time,” performed by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. Personally I like the hook better in its 90s update, and thus “Bittersweet Symphony” is one of my favorite Britpop songs…but then, isn’t it one of everyone’s favorites?

    The whole ordeal was a load of bullshit really, because Jagger had nothing against The Verve stealing something from their old manager, especially since that manager owned the song, and the Stones didn’t.

    Anyway, the album. It suffers from being too long, and some of these songs really come off as “well hey, didn’t the song just before this do basically the same thing, only better?” I personally dislike “Neon Wilderness” quite a bit, as it sounds like it’s merely taking up space…and dull numbers like “Velvet Morning” aren’t way too good either. But overall the album is quite well-balanced between spacey material and the more obvious balladry, and nothing here is really wholly offensive to the ears or anything…not one of the best albums of the 90s, but maybe at least one of the best of Britpop. I’ll still take a Manic Street Preachers album over this, though.

  2. All good points, sir, and yeah it might have been more dash clever of myself to point out that they actually stole those strings from the Rolling Stones’ *manager*… Oh well!

  3. What a poorly written article.

    It repeats itself in perpetuity. If I’d heard ‘ambient’ or ‘funky’ one more time I’d have taken a hatchet to the monitor.

    As to the album itself, at the time of its’ release, it offered an alternative to other UK bands of its’ genre. I agree with ryan that it had some substandard tracks, but the album in itself was a breath of fresh air in terms of the use of strings, etc. to set it apart from the likes of the ‘music by numbers’ approach of the likes of Oasis, etc.

    It was music on a more cerebral level if you like and avant-garde in its’ approach. Well crafted despite the obvious infighting rife in the band at the time, and will go down in history as a niche bookmark amongst the populist offerings at the time, built on hype and self-publicity.

  4. Welcome, Kris, to Album Du Jour, where your opinions matter. We appreciate the tact with which you have chosen to express your feelings on This Article, unfortunately, you only came close enough to finding Our Secret Point to win a consolation prize, a free subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine!

    We apologize for the poor quality of our consolation prize, but really it was next to the easiest thing in the world to spot Our Secret Point so we encourage you to “keep practicing” the Internet and try again!

  5. Music is like art; subjective. This is one of my top 5 all-time albums. I like tracks 5, 6, 12, and 14 the best. I am not musically inclined, so I do not understand “good” melodies and riffs and “funkiness” and all of that. I just know what moves me, and this album speaks to my soul. Btw, a few of my others in my top 5 are The Cult’s Sonic Temple, Radiohead’s Kid A, and Hole’s Celebrity Skin. Thanks for your post.

    • Yeah, there seems to be some confusion when I talk about some of these albums. When I say something is good or bad or boring, I’m not actually saying it’s true, I’m saying that’s how I personally feel about the album. To be honest, I’d probably be a more honest critic if I had the time, but in fact I more or less have to go with whatever my thoughts on the album are at the time. It’s not fair, sure, but it gets these articles written.

      I’m much kinder to Kid A if you want to read that!

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