Album Of The Week - The Verve - Urban Hymns
Last week, we had some neo-progressive rock from the 1980s; this week we're moving it on to some alternative rock from the 1990s. This week's Album Of The Week is The Verve's masterpiece Urban Hymns from 1997.
Much like last week's Misplaced Childhood, Urban Hymns is one I grew up on and is, in a multitude of ways, pretty perfect. It features some absolutely fantastic tracks such as Sonnet and The Rolling People, plus The Verve's most famous number Bittersweet Symphony. The latter has been subject to much controversy in the last twenty or so years. All of the royalties are the property of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones thanks to famed music executive Allen Klein. Klein had managed the Rolling Stones with Andrew Oldham. The Verve sampled strings from an Andrew Oldham orchestral version of The Stones' The Last Time. Klein didn't allow sampling of any ABCKO-owned music and so the resulting agreement was that Bittersweet Symphony would fall into his hands. Therefore, Richard Ashcroft makes pretty much no money from any time the song is played; it seems pretty ironic considering how Klein used the track in adverts by corporations such as Nike.
Urban Hymns is the album that people know The Verve for - it's a great compilation of well-written and well-instrumented songs. Sonnet is one of my all-time favourites and even some of the deeper-cuts such as Weeping Willow prove that Ashcroft is one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, along with the likes of Noel Gallagher and Chris Martin. It's the combined work of Richard Ashcroft and Nick McCabe that make Urban Hymns so great. McCabe's guitar work is subtle brilliance on most of the tracks, but his work on Lucky Man is really something to be proud of. The more jovial notes on the bridge combine with the grit in Ashcroft's voice to create something truly spectacular.
Personal touches run deep in tracks such as The Drugs Don't Work, that according to some, details his bedside experiences with his father who passed away when he was eleven. Others claim it's to do with Ashcroft's recreational drug usage, but regardless, it's a song that invokes pure passion, especially when performed live with just Ashcroft and an acoustic guitar.
In terms of nineties alternative rock, it is rather difficult to look for anything better than Urban Hymns. It's a perfect blend of fantastic guitar-work, masterful songwriting and results in one of the best-sounding albums of the last thirty years. There's not a weak track on Urban Hymns and I'd be hard-pressed to find one. People who know this album will appreciate its magnificence and for those who haven't delved into it, I strongly recommend it if you're looking for some emotionally-driven lyrics, soulful guitar notes and a portfolio of one of the best songwriters of the generation.
More musical magnificence to come next week!