The Verve, Urban Hymns

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Urban Hymns

The Verve
Towering psych-rock power ballads from Britpop’s swaggering shaman

A messianic sense of purpose has driven Richard Ashcroft throughout his career. During the Verve's early years, he led the band through improvisational epics that combined shoegaze shimmer with Glimmer Twins swagger. On 1997's Urban Hymns, better songwriting helped "Mad Richard" make good on his globe-conquering ambitions; to date, the Verve's third album has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide. Most responsible for the record's success was "Bitter Sweet Symphony," an overpowering anthem that sweetens its disenchanted brooding with a majestic string sample from a forgotten orchestral version of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time." After legal wrangling, Stones manager Allen Klein would receive all songwriting royalties for the track, but Urban Hymns had moments no less bittersweet: twangy, string-draped ballads "The Drugs Don't Work," "Sonnet" and "Lucky Man," plus turbulent psych excursions like "Catching the Butterfly" and "Come On." Guitarist Nick McCabe, whom Ashcroft enticed to rejoin the Verve in time to finish Urban Hymns, would quit during the band's 1998 U.S. tour, and the band split a year later. Still believing in his own shamanic powers, Ashcroft has continued to release solo albums, and reunited the Verve for a brief tour followed by 2008 album Forth. Still, although some will argue for 1995 sophomore effort A Northern Soul, Urban Hymns was where Ashcroft's spacey dreams became reality.