Exitfare Favorites: The Verve "Urban Hymns"
It's 2008 and The Verve have just reformed to tour and work on a new album. Sound familiar? It happened back in '96 as the band, who has just released their most successful album to date, parted ways only to reform several months later.
When the band came back together, all of the old tensions were there, just as palpable as ever, and on top of that, drugs threatened to destroy the band. It's not an exaggeration to say that Urban Hymns was an album that was almost never made because it's 100% true -- it should have been made. To look back on all of the shit the band was going through, either directly or indirectly, it's a wonder even one of these songs made the light of day.
With A Northern Soul, the band has finally become stars in their native UK, but 1997's Urban Hymns would rocket them to international superstardom, although they didn't make anything of the album's first single "Bittersweet Symphony." The follow-up single, "The Drugs Don't Work" (a sentiment they didn't adhere to) was their first UK #1.
The important thing to consider about this record is that its greatness is not directly related to its commercial success -- that was just a happy accident. In addition to the difficulty leading up to finishing this record, the band almost totally departed from the neo-psychedelic tunes of their early days. While alienating some of their hardcore followers, they were able to unite most of their classic fanbase with the commercial indie crowd.
"The Drugs Don't Work"
This is a record that grows with each listen, but not in that cliche "it grows on you" sort of way, but in a way that it's a multi-tiered creation that grows with you over the years. Each subsequent listen reveals something new, whether it be a lyric, favorite song or bridge. Over a decade later, I am still discovering new things I love about this album. The singles may be great, but the real gems are the album tracks, like the heart-breaking "Space & Time," the bittersweet "This Time" or the anthemic "Weeping Willow."
Urban Hymns is a product of the stress of its creation and the talented musicians who were able to put aside their differences to complete this record. While the band may have been troubled, the attitude they put forth indicated that they were looking for redemption and willing to look to the future, but their downfall was that they didn't quite know how to do it yet.