Virgin / UMC (label)
01 September 2017 (released)
22 September 2017
1998 represented the high water mark for The Verve, and twenty years old this month, ‘Urban Hymns’ still ranks among the UK's all-time top twenty best-selling albums. This 20th anniversary edition is remastered by original co-producer Chris Potter, who also worked with Richard Ashcroft on his solo albums.
The album catapulted the group, which got together at Winstanley College, into the front rank of indie bands. It not only earned the band the Best British Group and Best British Album gongs at the BRITs that year, but also became a huge hit Stateside, a feat that Oasis themselves were never fully able to realise.
With an opening song such as Bittersweet Symphony sounding so familiar after such a long period has elapsed, what's notable from a fresh listen is just how good the accompanying orchestration is - particularly the repeated violin refrain - allied to the propulsive beat of bass from Simon Jones and Peter Salisbury's drums. Such a pity for the Verve then, that having negotiated a license to use a five-note sample from an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones' ‘The Last Time,’ and getting clearance from Decca Records, they had to give up 100% of all royalties following a lawsuit initiated by Allen Klein. Rough justice indeed.
Next up is ‘Sonnet’, a more introspective and balladic number; indeed one of the enduring strengths of the record is the contrast between the light and shade of songs such as this, and what immediately follows, ‘The Rolling People.’ The latter weighs in at just over 7 minutes, but even with its squalls of guitar feedback, it doesn't sound a second overlong, opening up with drum and an electric piano, the latter not dissimilar sounding to John Lord in his Deep Purple pomp, before Richard Ashcroft chimes in with, "Big shout out: I got one more life, can you see it wasting away, but I got a plan aaah do you understand?" We certainly can. A skyscraping number such as this again contrasts nicely with a slower paced, plaintive number such as ‘The Drugs Don't Work’, the latter possibly the most renowned song off the album after ‘Bittersweet Symphony,’ and a number 1 single.
Where ‘Urban Hymns’ is so fully realised is in the light and shade of the more rambunctious, space rock numbers such as ‘Space and Time’ and ‘Catching the Butterfly’ which contrast so effectively with more slower paced, melodious numbers such as ‘Lucky Man’.
This reissue edition will probably prove of most interest to those wanting a recording of the Verve’s famous outdoor gig to 35,000 fans at Haigh Hall for the first time. The sound quality on the 11 live tracks is crystal clear throughout, and somewhat inevitably include performances of the better known tracks from Urban Hymns.
The live set kicks off with some of their best work, including ‘This is Music’ and a particularly spirited ‘Space and Time,’ Richard Ashcroft’s passion at playing his hometown of Wigan apparent throughout.
‘The Rolling People’ has Nick McCabe on guitar locked into a groove, with Ashcroft intoning a repeated vocal mantra, "I feel like music", over the top. The second disc of live music also includes performances from Washington DC, Manchester and London.
There's a wealth of additional bonus material here, with different formats for CD and vinyl, including b-sides, plus three hours of previously unreleased live concert recordings, including BBC Evening Sessions from 1997. There’s also a DVD with the documentary, ‘The Video 96-98’, which, was formerly only available on VHS.