Nightman Listens To – The Verve – Urban Hymns (Top 1000 Albums Series)

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

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Greetings, Glancers! Today we go back to the height of Britpop, the time when a younger Nightman was in school, playing N64, drinking beer between classes, and carving lyrics into school desks with a compass.

No, the other type
No, the other type

Today’s album is an odd one in that I don’t really understand how I missed it, given that I’ve liked every song from it that I’ve heard, and with two of them being two of my favourite songs of the decade. I may well have heard it all, as chances are that it would have been played in the background at a house party or shared on a school bus trip, but I can’t confirm this one way or the other so here we are.

What I Know About The Verve: After a number of unsuccessful albums (which I believe had quite a different sound from the one they converted to on Urban Hymns), The Verve struck gold and became one of the biggest acts in Britain. it didn’t last and they split up shortly after their biggest success with singer Richard Ashcroft going to a solo career (though they returned a decade later with another album). Incidentally, Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers was one of my favourite songs of that decade too. The had a number of big singles in the late Nineties, and though lumped in with other Britpop acts, they didn’t truly fit that genre.

What I Know About Urban Hymns: Most of my friends had it, and I almost bought it myself a few times. With songs like Bittersweet Symphony and The Drugs Don’t Work, the album was a monster hit winning several awards and becoming a staple of indie house parties and school bus trips all around the country.

Bitter Sweet Symphony: Hmm, you know I never really enjoyed this one, possibly because it was overplayed to ridiculous levels and appeared on everything from TV Ads to movie soundtracks to probably political campaign messages and sports broadcasts. Maybe it’s because I preferred the similar The Chad Who Loved Me by Mansun. Maybe the video was also endlessly played and irritated me. It’s clearly a good song, but I find it way too repetitive and a good minute, if not two minutes too long.

Sonnet: This is more like it – even though this was a single I don’t think it got the recognition it deserved. This is one of my aformentioned favourite songs – not only because it is brimming with personal nostalgia, but I remember absolutely loving it at the time too. The mixing between the weird, almost country bass, the acoustic and electic guitars, Ashcroft’s gorgeous vocals, but most importantly that epic chorus all blend to make four minutes of bliss. Unlike the first track, I have a a feeling I could listen to this multiple times every day and never tire of it. It’s filled with so many moments I savour – the repetition of ‘my head is gone’, the twinkly piano after the first chorus, the middle section, and of course the strings. Give me strings and there’s a 90% chance I’ll love you.

The Rolling People: Funky intro, with wacka wacka guitars. This sounds more like your typical Britpop song. I don’t recall hearing this one before. Ashcroft sounds like a much deeper vocal version of Robert Harvey here. Sounds like a fairly standard plodding rocker. Spacey middle section, only half way through. Becoming a little like an Oasis track, and sounding a little like Liam. Groovy extended ending for dance purposes only. Pretty average album track – I’m looking for lost gems, remember!

The Drugs Don’t Work: Well, what can we say about this one? Brooding, heart-breaking, addictive, beautiful perfection. It’s obvious I adore everything about this song, one of the finest songs of the decade. Give me haunting melodies, strings, and emotive lyrics and performance and I’m yours.

Catching The Butterfly: Swirly guitar distortion. Uppy downy vocals. Fluttery. Lucid dreams. Another loose, trippy song which hovers along without any major hook but decent enough to cruise or sleep to. Unnecessarily long.

Neon Wilderness: Fading in with guitar effects. Spacey, distant, near spoken vocals. Drums. Nothing in time with anything else. Fine. Overlapping vocal bits. Is this going to turn into a more traditional song or continue in this vein, as this sort of thing gets boring after a couple of minutes. Fading out. At least it was short.

Space And Time: Acoustics. Interesting. Nice verse. Nice chours. Yay, it’s a song I don’t know which I love! And it manages to take me back to the mid-nineties even though I haven’t heard it. Give off an Oasis vibe. Melodies are good, nothing overly emotional but still good stuff. Changes subtly enough over the running time to keep from going stale.

Weeping Willow: Piano and swirls. Drums and the rest. Indie vocals. Another promising one which I don’t think I’ve heard. I have vague memories of people talking about this one. Slight Stone Roses vibe. A bit grittier and heavier, whilst retaining that overall swirling trippy tone. Catchy enough chorus. Last vocal part is exactly same melody as part of Champagne Supernova. 

Lucky Man: I was never overly in love with this one, when up against the two biggies it always felt a little too plain. Still a good song though. It’s the same feeling I have for Karma Police – I am aware it’s a great song, I just don’t get the feels for it the same as I do for others.

One Day: Organ. Gospel. Pleasant, very nice. With a stronger melody in the chorus this would be a classic, but they choose a more dreamy approach then going all out for something with an obvious hook. It works in the verses as I expect a glorious pay off in the chorus after all the build up.

This Time: Wibble wobble. Rapping. Regret. A different sound. Nice chorus melody, if only it had some strings or a bit more force behind. Wah wah. Should have ended it after the second chorus or gone in a different direction, as it stretches off too much into nothingness, but again this is short-lived.

Velvet Morning: Country. Another soothing ambient song merged with the more obvious Indie angst guitars. Soft, and yawning, and always seems just on the verge of getting louder. It breaks into a more traditional section a couple of minutes in with good vocals to offset the dreamy parts. Good stuff, good ending.

Come On: Drums. Higher pitched vocals. Sounds like what many Indie bands of the time were putting out. It’s an okay rock song, but not exactly inspired. Possibly the heaviest, most energetic song on the album, but that isn’t saying a lot. Of course the album isn’t going for that sound, but this song clearly is yet it still feels a little lethargic or over produced rather than simply letting loose and playing. A bit of shrieking and swearing at the end to spice things up, feels a little silly, but whatever. It’s a foot-tapper.

Deep Freeze: Oh, it’s a good old hidden track. The previous song was a decent enough way to close the album, but lets see what this one is all about. Noises. Sounds. Baby crying. So, standard extra track fare then – pointless.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 213/1000

What I Learned: That it’s good to catch up on history; this missing piece of my teenage years has finally been filled in. I expected the album to be more akin to the rest of the Britpop scene, and while much of it does fit in to that ilk, The Verve have retained their own sound throughout. The better songs are still the singles, and there are a few fillers for my ears – songs which meander too much and go nowhere. Likewise there are a few strong tracks which I has not previously heard which I enjoyed and will gladly listen to again. I can’t recall if any of the other The Verve albums appear on Larkin’s list, but I’ve always wanted to hear those too, so I’ll search them out.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: It’s obviously an integral part of the closing stages of Britpop and was one of the most commercially and critically successful albums of the year, with a host of singles which spanned the globe. On that basis, as well as the fact that it did a lot to influence later artists who wanted that looser, baggier indie rock feel, it feels justified to see this in Top 1000 albums of all time. However, I can’t commit to saying that it would be high on my personal list given that only two of the songs truly resonate with me. I was never a huge fan of the Britpop scene, finding an awful lot of it too samey and reeking of tramps, and instead went for the bands who were either on the fringe, offered a little more, or went in a completely opposing direction. If I listen to the album a few more times I know that a couple of other songs would continue to grow on me, which may make me rethink my ranking.

Let us know in the comments if you feel this deserves a place in the Top 100 Albums Of All Time – is it one of your all time favourites, or did you despise it upon release. Feel free to share your opinions on the album and the review below!

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