THE VERVE – Urban Hymns – Album Review
What can you possibly say about one of the finest collections of beautifully written and produced songs ever laid to record?
One quick review like this could not possibly do such a masterpiece justice.
As opening tracks go, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” ranks up there as one of the heaviest hitters in music history. At its very core this track is a masterpiece of orchestration and raw emotion. The beautiful, sweeping, high octave string arrangement in the background, which was sampled from an orchestral recording of The Rolling Stones “The Last Time” creates a stunning backdrop for Richard Ashcroft’s introspective lyrics. This song is the definition of ‘iconic’
Following on then immediately with the hauntingly beautiful ballad “Sonnet” for me, captures the very essence of The Verve’s musical diversity and emotional depth.
Dropping 2 such heavyweight and emotional openers is always going to be a tough act to follow and track 3 of many albums can suffer as a result. “The Rolling People” takes up the challenge with gusto, by bursting into the room and throwing a bucket of cold water over your face. This track features some seriously edgy guitar hooks.
You get a sense that the running order was something which figured heavily in the latter planning stages prior to this album’s release.
There are so many underrated and possibly overlooked songs on this record. Many people in our current low attention span / quick fix / TikTok generation will flick through to the popular mainstream hitters on an album and miss it’s entire story. The flow and structure on Urban Hymns, for me, is its pièce de résistance.
It’s the entire story that this album tells around it’s big, most popular songs that are equally as important as those anthems.
The spiritually uplifting masterpiece “Weeping Willow” has a wonderful, subtle depth that easily ranks it up there with every other track, while “Neon Wilderness” has the feel of a beautiful, psychedelic Morrisonesque dream.
“Space And Time” is a very high ranked track by many die hard fans and features the dreamy guitar work by Nick McCabe.
Yes there are big mainstream hits which have the potential to tear off your head, but I believe it’s the subtle tracks in between that create the entire package. Not one track overpowers the rest on this album, which is in itself a rare quality.
The stunning Fender Rhodes led ‘One Day’ is such a beautiful and subtle interlude, and a breath catcher as you scrape yourself off the ceiling after being hit with ultimate in thought provoking masterpieces which i speak of next.
“Lucky Man” Is one of those songs which has the power to bring you to your knees, or lift your soul to new heights at the time when you most need some life affirmation. Lyrics like these resonate with so many listeners on a deeply personal level. This is why i believe that music has the capacity to evoke a broad range of different emotions, from joy and exhilaration to sadness and introspection, often stirring memories and experiences in ways that words alone cannot.
The sequence of the songs on this album took a lot of careful consideration. The parting shot of “Come On” features the gritty backing vocals of Liam Gallagher and could not have been better placed to leave you with the perfect summary of what these guys were all about.
The work of Chris Potter on the production of “Urban Hymns” is on a completely different scale to anything else of its genre and time, the layering and his acute ear during the mixdown of levels is just sublime. Subsequently Potter went on to win a Brit Award for his production on this masterpiece, there was nothing even remotely close in 1997’s nominations.
This album continues to grow on me more and more as I have grown myself as a person, and discovered more about the many levels it takes to create a true band, and indeed a proper album journey. All the ingredients required very rarely ever gel to create a band such as The Verve.
Records like this only come along a few times in a lifetime. I believe that the world of music owes Richard Ashcroft a huge debt of gratitude for his contributions over the years.
Without shadow of doubt, In the top 5 albums of the 90’s.