‘Eargasmic’ Hymns: Crazed Highs and Horrible Lows

This is an article I had written more than 5 years ago, here it is straight from maxdiamond archives.
Back then my musical tastes were way too different for some time that you'll notice as you read on.
Some of the comments may sound a little outdated but the scene is pretty much the same, innit?
Well, read on…

The world is in dire need of madmen, wrist slashers and a prime nutcase.
Somewhere Air Supply are supplying their nth love song for a career spanning 25 years only filled with love songs (c’mon there’s more to life!), and elsewhere Celine Dion or Mariah Carey, whose shrieking would put any self-respecting frog to an earth shattering inferiority complex, are manufacturing the unending shitload of pop tunes (?), and somewhere away from Bronx, J Lo is nothing but an ass!

Back then..
Back when bad boys went into Rock n roll and the disco was for the footloose, the rotten settled for punk, while the blues and jazz were being the serious types, a major demographic sector had nowhere to go.
Pop was a welcome change, but in no way an alternative for the angry, confused generation that was waking up from the Woodstock hangover.

The politically correct 90s saw the rise of many boy bands and girl bands, and more of the shrieking Divas who ended up marrying the top brass old guys, top music industry execs or the producers.

The bottom line: there’s more slime on the way coz it never ends.

Dying Breed…
That leaves guys like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler, a dying breed of real musicians who never did it for the heck of it but for what they believed.

Come to think of it, Bob Dylan is a legend, who had won only one Grammy Award in his life time that too for the weakest effort of his life, Time Out of Mind, whereas lousy artists like Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and their ilk go about sweeping all the major categories.

Give us another Ozzy, another Robert Plant, one more Iggy Pop or Deep Purple (of Machine Head days, that is). Give us the Big Band Sound of Led Zep, Metallica, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Guns n Roses, etc. (or even one more Bob Marley.)

Gone are the days when Rock n roll was about a bunch of kids holed up in a garage and beating the living daylights out of the neighbors, now it’s down to a geek in front of a PC and creating the almighty noise or the goateed bastards in shorts who are nothing but failed rappers cashing in on the Rap Metal bandwagon, and the ones who pretend like there’s a horse stuck between their legs or just the average black man trapped in a white man’s body.

Deconstruction lives, children…

During the late 90s, it was kinda hip to say, “Rock is dead.”
Hang someone who says so by the balls and let them rot in hell till eternity. Rock n roll is still alive and kicking some serious ass.

One listen to the Verve’s Urban Hymns, you’ll be a believer like, well, Monkees!

Urban Hymns- the Verve
Virgin Records, October 10, 1998


1. Bitter Sweet Symphony
2. Sonnet
3. The Rolling People
4. The Drugs Don't Work
5. Catching The Butterfly
6. Neon Wilderness
7. Space And Time
8. Weeping Willow
9. Lucky Man
10. One Day
11. This Time
12. Velvet Morning
13. Come On

Coming to the business now, ‘Eargasmic’ is one word to call this latter day magnum opus that came out of the Brit-Rock scene and the torchbearers called as the Verve.

"I'm into great music. Funkadelic, Can, Sly Stone, Neil Young, the Stones. Jazz.
I can name you 50 bands who are doing OK now and in two years they will be forgotten.
History will forget them.
But history has a place for us. It may take three albums but we will be there."

Richard Ashcroft was quoted to have said this in 1993 way before the acclaimed epic ‘Northern Soul’ was assured its legend as one of the decade's lost greats but the band had disintegrated, its two principal sources of inspiration, Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe, torn apart by mental and physical burn-out.

A quote like the above one coming from any other lesser mortal would have raised a few laughs and sent him back into oblivion for infinity were it not the reasons being that the Verve were equipped with all the guts, conviction and pyrotechnics to assault the unassuming listeners with an epic sound reminiscent of Led Zeppelin.

Crazed Highs and Horrible Lows
During the times when The Verve was only Verve, who had begun to make their enthusiastic leaps into the Big Sound and their musical soul mates, Oasis were just into their major label debut, the critics used to call Richard Ashcroft as ‘MAD Richard’. And back then white English guitar music was about nothing else.

It proved to be true! Nobody calls him Mad anymore, now Ashcroft is someone revered all over the circles as a genius.
'Mad Richard' was mad no longer: The Verve, as he promised, had become the greatest band in the world.
Most of the critics agreed with him.
Most paid due homage.

The Verve were no longer the question mark or the cliche.
They were the statement and the definition.

The tragedy of the piece was that a band that had put so much faith solely in the power of its own music had fallen in the end on the sword of this unrequited belief.

As a nation romanced Oasis with a passion that would've suited The Verve fine, the obituaries that greeted their demise were slim … lights dim, curtains close, four shattered northern souls grieve quietly backstage with family and friends.

Act Two, Scene One opens in a burst of blinding light to searing, joyous strings, to the sound of a 'Bitter Sweet Symphony', The Verve's first single since their split and the opening song of praise from this collection of 'Urban Hymns'. Its sheer magnificence and spirit is such that the danger of it overwhelming anything that follows it is obvious.

This, after all, is the musical signature of the year for anyone not so out of love with music that they're satisfied with Elton John's bleeding heart.

But 'Urban Hymns' is a big, big record.

'Bitter Sweet Symphony''s glorious rallying call to a million outsiders is met by a much more personal plea for salvation on 'Sonnet', but it's no less stinging for that.
This is the sound of a man falling deeply in love and begging for some recognition of these feelings from his object of desire. "Sinking faster than a boat without a hull," moans Ashcroft as sweeping strings whip the gentle rhythm to a misty climax, "dreaming about about the day I can see you by my side… Yes, there's love if you want it".

But this mood of soft helplessness is torn apart by the ensuing 'The Rolling People', where the same army of outlanders addressed on 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' are on the march again.
This time, however, they're armed with hard drugs and kalashnikovs, and the closing freak-out sounds like the controlled explosion of the first three Led Zep albums in a metal box.

Heady stuff, obviously, but with all peaks must come troughs and 'The Drugs Don't Work' captures the moment of romantic and pharmaceutical comedown with cinematic precision.

A fifth speed on the emotional gearbox: 'Catching The Butterfly' roams a mystical plain last visited on their debut album and with its neon-lit,metallic guitar coda sounds like a trippy Joy Division.

Of these, 'Space And Time' is the most heart-breaking, its frank admission that a love affair is over set to an elegant strum: "We feel numb because we don't see that if we really cared and we really loved think of all the joy we'd share".
It ends with Ashcroft moaning repeatedly that, "we have existence and it's all we share". A thousand rocky relationships will falter when this is played alone at home at night.

What makes this album one of the classics at the turn of the millennium is that the album addresses the listener in 'you-and-me' terms and that suits fine for all.

Where are they now?
Last time I saw Richard Ashcroft, he was performing 'Bittersweet Symphony' with Coldplay at Live 8 concert.
Here's a direct link (Quicktime movie file) to the live performance.
Richard Ashcroft has gone solo with couple of records under his belt with some success but nothing like Urban Hymns.
With Nick McCabe and rest of the members pursuing various solo careers in music that rest of the world is barely interested in.
A best of The Verve was released a year ago called as 'This is the Music'.

Parting Shot
Urban Hymns has been a companion (a personal favourite) to me through many testing times of my life in the past few years, every time I listen to this album it reminds of the places I have been, the people I met, things that I learned and where I come from.
Isnt it good to have something / someone to remind you that?
Well, this record is one of those things to me…



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