REVIEW: Urban Hymns by The Verve

  1. Bitter Sweet Symphony” (Jagger/Richards, Ashcroft) – 5:58
  2. Sonnet” – 4:21
  3. “The Rolling People” (The Verve) – 7:01
  4. The Drugs Don’t Work” – 5:05
  5. “Catching the Butterfly” (The Verve) – 6:26
  6. “Neon Wilderness” (Nick McCabe, The Verve) – 2:37
  7. “Space and Time” – 5:36
  8. “Weeping Willow” – 4:49
  9. Lucky Man” – 4:53
  10. “One Day” – 5:03
  11. “This Time” – 3:50
  12. “Velvet Morning” – 4:57
  13. “Come On” (The Verve) – 15:15

Hearing 60s psychedelia, 80s anthemic rock, 90s indie is on its own a feat; what more if you hear a mix of  Kurt Cobain-ish urban angst with some postmodern, middle class philosophizing. This disorienting cocktail is called Urban Hymns, a 90s album by The Verve which skyrocketed them to mainstream fame.

Urban Hymns may seem be a staple 90s record, but even Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher praised the album for its innovative musical composition and mind-boggling lyrics.

Mainstream opinion highlighted the track “Bittersweet Symphony,” but to reduce the album to this song is a terrible mistake. In fact, I will consider “Bittersweet Symphony” as a weak opening track for the album. The rather monotonous strings make the musical accompaniment a rather bland one. Not mentioning that the iconic strings section is plagiarized from a Rolling Stones cover.

“Sonnet” and “The Drugs Don’t Work” will pass as good pop tunes, especially with their catchiness and very ‘emo’ lyrics. “The Rolling People”, however, is a very powerful track where the band’s testosterone can be seen at its pinnacle, second only to the final track “Come On”. The spoken word section towards the end of the song and the screams a la Johny Rotten will shock any listener who thinks that ‘Urban Hymns’ is a mellow album (especially since the album cover suggests so). “Weeping Willow”, “Lucky Man” , and “This Time” all exhibit an exotic beauty that can pass pop standards.  “Space and Time”, on the other hand, gives us a taste of youthful sort of profundity, proving itself as the ‘deepest’ part of the supposedly shallow pop album, prophetically announcing the Einstein-ish maxim ‘There is no space and time.’ “Velvet Morning” sounds like an old country song which has country temperance but at the same time exhibits a certain sort of poppy ambience. “Come On” is an extended track, buffed by a very baffling dream sequence at 13:07, book-ending the album in a haze of bright notes and a baby’s cry loop.

The lyrical part of the album is very diverse, ranging from raw emotions to anti-drug propaganda (“The drugs don’t work/ they just make you worse”). The disorienting variety of temperance in the lyrics of the songs is matched with druggish variation in guitar work. From heavy distortion to country slide notes to cheesy acoustic, the music itself seems intent to play chase with genres. The drums are good, very tight and controlled to give way to a smooth torrent of sounds.

The weakness, however, of the album is its tendency to dwell in saturated sounds, leaving the listener quite exhausted at hearing a lot of sounds even while still in the middle of album. Of course, this album is about musical excess and lyrical showmanship, but it makes the whole record quite a hard thing to listen and appreciate, especially for those who likes quick thrill pop songs. Nonetheless, Urban Hymns is a musical masterpiece, suggested for those who all those who think that 90s music is young shit.


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