Tuesday, 31 August 2010

'Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die.' by @diaryofaledger

When Urban Hymns hit the shops the UK was in the middle of Oasis fever.  Except something had gone wrong.  The first two Oasis albums had gripped the nation by it's boisterous heart strings, creating something that felt new and vibrant, but the third tried too hard to have some depth, coming across as bloated, lacking the bite and energy of it's predecessors.  Some will tell you now that Be Here Now is underrated.  It's not.  But another band went and made the album that Oasis' third should have been.  The Verve.

Urban Hymns begins with 'Bitter Sweet Symphony', the sample of the Andrew Oldham Orchestra (that cost The Verve any song writing credits) slowly building and building.  Even seventeen years after release the drums kicking in still sends a shiver up my spine.  There's an honesty throughout from Richard Ashcroft's words, personified in 'Symphony'.  It's a mantra of a song, the video of Ashcroft walking down a street refusing to let anyone put him off his stride had more real life attitude in it than Liam Gallagher ever managed to muster.

The album had been pretty much recorded when Ashcroft asked Nick McCabe to rejoin the band as guitarist, noticing that something was missing from the bands sound (following a brief split) and the combination of a singer at his peak and a guitarist who could blend his instrument so beautifully into the songs made Urban Hymns special.  Even the slower songs, like 'Sonnet', have a pounding relentlessness to them, (catch the last thirty seconds or so).

There's an air of melancholy around Urban Hymns too and not just on 'The Drugs Don't Work'.  It's something that Oasis, despite making the right noises, never really matched.  It took over for a while, I listened to it constantly and I never bought an Oasis album again after it.  Urban Hymns was like holding Oasis up to the light and seeing what they really were, a talented guitarist with a dick of a brother who could sing, but with a poor grasp of how to convert emotion into words beyond a good sing along about very little.  Don't get me wrong, the first two Oasis albums are up there for me because of what they meant at the time.  Oasis woke the country back up with their spirit and their sound in a way that the Stone Roses and The Smiths never could of.  Without Oasis Urban Hymns would have never happened.

But it's like Ashcroft saw what his contemporaries were doing and sneered at it.  Urban Hymns doesn't sound like the work of a band with two commercial failures behind them, it's so confident and sure of itself and at times just a gorgeous, warm listen.  Personal favourites sit next to each other in the middle of the album, 'Space and Time' followed by 'Weeping Willow'.  They sound old school but vibrant and Ashcroft's singing never sounded better.  The words, guitars and drums a cacophony of emotion.  There's a genuineness to the songs that's still there today.
'There'll be no better time,
There'll be no better way,
There'll be no better day,
To save me.'
Urban Hymns sits as one of those great albums of the 90s, the perfect blend of Rock n' Roll with an intelligent edge.  Ashcroft could be mad as a badger at times, but on this their third album it all feels reigned in and controlled, like he wanted his band to make a mark on the musical landscape before stepping back to the edge and jumping again.  Ashcroft perusing a solo career where for the most part he just sounded like he needed his band behind him and a disappointing return for The Verve 2008 with Forth that never set the world alight, only 'Love is Noise' hinting at past glories.

Urban Hymns ends with 'Come On', a call to arms of a song with a great riff and one of the best bits of swearing ever recorded.
'Fuck you, COME ON!!'
For a while there we did Richard.  We really did.

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