Monday, April 28, 2008

The Verve's "Urban Hymns": An Appreciation

I was in a thrift store downtown with Caitlin on Saturday afternoon because she was looking for a particular thing to go with one of her outfits. As usual, because she enjoys browsing, I quickly got bored and restless so I wandered over to the books and CDs section. As I was rummaging through the CDs, I happened upon a copy of the Verve's Urban Hymns, one of my favourite albums ever. The thing was in near-mint condition and was only $1.99!!! Seeing that I only ever had a burned copy that a college buddy made for me, I snatched it up. Every time I put this album on I am reminded of its sheer brilliance and awe-inspiring beauty. Other than the fact that the song "Bittersweet Symphony" was sold to numerous companies to be used in advertising (against the band's will, because of a copyright fiasco involving the Rolling Stones) and was EVERYWHERE for awhile, the album didn't make much of a dent on my conscious when it came out, nor on that of any of my musically-inclined friends. However, the next year (1998) a good friend that I met at Camosun College asked me if I had ever listened to the Verve and replied that I hadn't. He found this unacceptable and the next day he showed up in class with a burned copy of the album for me, which I took home and listened to.

Needless to say, since I am devoting an entire blog post to it, Urban Hymns made a huge impact on me and to this day it's still one of my favourite albums ever. The band's panoramic, psychedelic soundscapes (mostly due to Nick McCabe's otherworldly guitar genius) astounded me and I still wonder how the heck McCabe is making all those spacey sounds and marvel at the way he paints with the guitar, almost making it speak. The songs lyrics had a worn-out grandeur to them that I immediately identified with--they were desolate, yet in a strange way hopeful. Every song on the album is a winner, 13 stunning tracks that rock, soothe, and inspire. The first time I heard it I came out on the other side wasted, but wanting to listen to it again immediately, which I subsequently did. Over the past decade, as I have kept returning to Urban Hymns, I have been continually rewarded by the beauty of "Sonnet", the sadness of "Velvet Morning", the majestic string arrangement that buoys the coda of "Lucky Man", as well as the incredibly evocative Weeping Willow". As a piece of art, this album has moved me in ways that few others have. Then of course, there's "The Drugs Don't Work", for my money one of the most beautiful songs written in the past 25 years, though incredibly haunting at the same time. Ben Harper liked it so much, he covered it acoustically on his Live From Mars album.

Being that I am a music snob and fairly difficult to impress, it is rare that an album comes along that just floors me, but much like Jeff Buckley's Grace this album drew me in immediately and I never grew tired of it. I consider it, along with OK Computer, to be the finest British rock album of the 1990's (sorry Gallagher brothers, but you can't touch this album--not even close) and one of the best alt-rock/Britrock albums ever. A true classic.

1 comment:

Dawnables said...

I concur. It's a classic album. "The Drugs Don't Work" is definitely one of the most heartfelt songs around... so beautiful, sad and tender, but "One Day" takes the cake for me, just for the production alone. It's really a song you can dive into.