A recent blog post on NME.com, the website of the UK’s leading music magazine, serves as a tribute to The Verve’s seminal album, 1997’s “Urban Hymns,” and live blogs its finest moments.
For one reason or another, The Verve is one of the biggest and best bands of all time in Europe, instead of the borderline one-hit-wonder they are here thanks to “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” I typically put a lot of stock in England’s popular music because I find their people generally have better taste than Americans, but this is I disagree.
The album has been grossly overrated, I think. It’s a fine record, with songs like “The Rolling People,” “Lucky Man” and the aforementioned hit, but it has plenty of stretches that are bland and uninteresting.
The popularity of this album makes people forget that “Urban Hymns” is actually a toned down version of the group. Their first two albums were trippy, reverby epics, a shadow of which is seen in their most popular release. The album they ought to be most recognized for is “A Storm in Heaven,” their 1993 debut that is both delicate and massive, always expansive and exciting.
Let’s do what NME blogger Matthew Horton did for “Urban Hymns” and give “A Storm in Heaven” the attention it deserves: here is a real time diary of listening to the album.
1:21 - We’ve already been put through an explosive guitar jab, a similarly crunchy but delicate riff and another epic explosion that leads to reverb-drenched vocals, wailing, “Hello, it’s me, it’s me…” in “Star Sail.” You can tell this album’s going to be a real trip. We know this album will provide a fraction of the experience if played through low-quality equipment because it occupies so much sonic space that iPod earbuds won’t cut it.
4:19 – After the first few seconds of “Slide Away,” all worries of a structure-less, Pink-Floyd-gone-wrong noise-fest are dispelled when a propelling bass and consistent drumming give the song both aim and plenty of room to wander. The big and small moments sound like they’re being performed in the mystical cave pictured on the album cover.
8:42 – “Already There” is the most serene moment of the album thus far and it’s doubtful anything will eclipse it. It’s a nice cool down from the sheer size of the first two tracks. That’s not to say “Star Sail” and “Slide Away” aren’t awesome, but if the whole album was big noise, your ears would get tired. Even the louder moments of this track come off as gentle because of what it’s sandwiched between.
16:12 – I hope you didn’t turn up the volume to hear the end of “Beautiful Mind” because if you did, “The Sun, The Sea” will hit your ears like Little Boy. It opens with a huge blast of deep, guitar that’s almost metallic in tone. It quickly returns to this album’s signature vibe that lies between innocent and adventurous.
21:52 – What I said before about the serenity of “Already There” is wrong: “Virtual World” has it beat, but it’s a less interesting track, so I’ll use this time to mention two key tracks from The Verve’s early days that didn’t make this album. “Gravity Grave” and “One Way To Go” would have been the best two tracks on the album if they were included, but they were instead put out on various releases prior to this album. Both are 7-plus minutes and are both the catchiest and most psychedelic things the band has ever committed to record.
44:51 – The album’s closing track, “See You In The Next One (Have A Good Time),” like its title suggests, comes off like it should be over the closing credits of a cast reunion TV special. It’s an almost cheesily predictable ending, but it kind of works in context and really brings the album to a finish.
A lesson to be learned from “A Storm in Heaven” is that debut albums are important to listen to because they often represent what a band aimed to be before record labels and critical opinion got involved. I’m not determining whether or not those formative influences are good or bad, but it’s fun to see a group in its infancy, still figuring out what it wants to do with itself.