1000 Albums Project


Urban Hymns, by The Verve
Suggested by Owen Pauling

How much does familiarity impact enjoyment, do you think?

Let’s look at Bittersweet Symphony as a case in point. There was a time that this Verve classic was literally everywhere, underscoring what seemed like every advertisement, every emotive film scene, even every personal success or tragedy over the invisible PA system in our minds.

The song was omnipresent, so the subject of its likeability is rather moot.

There are other songs on Urban Hymns with similar strength. Lucky Man is one, as is The Drugs Don’t Work. I’d even go so far to include Sonnet in this list. The album also has a classic late-Nineties Britpop sound, while simultaneously sounding original and unique, with its signature strings layered over electric and acoustic guitars.

But does it sound good, or does it just sound familiar?

Richard Ashcroft is a fine songwriter, as even the non-blockbuster tracks have a steel backbone. His voice is both powerful and disarmingly emotional. The guitar work is melodic, and the swell of the strings adds a veneer of beauty that seems at odds with the rest of the Bripop oeuvre. All the same, there’s a sense of the also-ran about The Verve, a feeling that they’re support stars, a group of student Coldplay soundalikes pumping out run-of-the-mill Oasis covers.

But, again, is familiarity breeding contempt, or are these songs better than I credit?

Running at a whopping seventy-five minutes, Urban Hymns never truly overstays its welcome. This is aided by a strong suite in the opening twenty minutes, While the quality does dip as the album goes on, it never dips lover than a B grade. Of the non-single releases, I enjoyed Velvet Morning and Catching the Butterfly most of all, but in honesty there’s nary a bad track here. Well… almost. I found Neon Wilderness to be a rambling slice of psychedelia too far.

In the end, I think that the dual-edged sword of familiarity shouldn’t detract from a strong and stable offering. A cliché is only a cliché because of its concrete kernel of truth, and a song can only crest the zeitgeist if it connects with people on a primal plane. With Bittersweet Symphony taking the coveted pole position, I give Urban Hymns a strong 7/10. The Verve can count themselves lucky men indeed.

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