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The Bends
The Bends
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 4.12

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest albums of all time, 6 Dec 2001
This review is from: The Bends (Audio CD)
After people dismissed Radiohead as one hit wonders with the unprecedented success of Creep; a track that lifted an otherwise average debut LP into a multi-million seller, the Oxford quintet took decisive steps with their second album. Namely not to even attempting to match the direct, incisive genius of that one off hit and to concentrate on emotional diversity in their lyrics and a more distinguished sound. In a reversal of the fortunes Creep bought them, the early singles charted in the lower end of the UK Top 30 with Radio 1 virtually refusing a minute of airplay. That was until the closing track Street Spirit (Fade Out) shot into the top five confirming it as an all time great anthem of misery and depression and The Bends as an all time great album, full stop.
The fact that no fewer than six tracks from an album were hits is always a good sign, but little can prepare you for the epic brilliance that makes The Bends one of guitar music's greatest albums. Although not one of the greatest opening tracks ever, the feedback drenched Planet Telex; front man Thom Yorke sets the tone with the chilling couplet: "Everyone is broken/ Everything is broken." Throughout Yorke perfects his often incomprehensible falsetto that have made him one of the most recognisable voices in modern music. Track after track of musical genius follow. There are the acoustic based songs of High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees and [Nice Dream], alongside the epic blasts of Black Star, The Bends, My Iron Lung and the brilliant Sulk. Fake Plastic Tress in particular is a fine example Radiohead's new approach of Yorke's unconventional, often rather meaningless lyrics, mellow use electric guitars and most importantly Yorke's child like vocals with the words often poorly pronounced. Somehow the combination is almost unbearably moving. The indecipherable vocals are such a priceless asset because they leave so much to the imagination. The listener often hears lyrics that often aren't the actual words, thus interpreting the songs, albeit accidentally, in their own way. Whatever you do, don't look at the words printed on the inside cover...
The more abrasive tracks are less accessible, demanding repeated listening before properly revealing themselves. Yorke was understandably none to impressed with a journalist at the time who labelled The Bends as "the depression soundtrack of 1995." Unlike their previous work, this goes far before simple confession. Thus Bones with it's three guitars feeding back by about million miles, is not as Q magazine put it when the album was voted number 6 in it's reader's poll of The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time a toe-tapping evocation of osteoporosis, but a devastating image of psychological crumbling.
If it is hard to choose a standout track it's only because nearly all of them are so brilliant. A strong candidate has to be the closing, Street Spirit (Fade Out). With it's instantly recognisable hook, Yorke's chilling vocal and strange lyrics, it provided the Radiohead with what was then their biggest hit to date and sent The Bends into the UK Album Top 5 after nearly a year on release. It still ranks as one of the most powerful and emotive songs to grace the UK charts. Perfectly encapsulating its parent album it manages through all the lyrical obsurity and metaphor to say its piece straight to the heart.


A Northern Soul
A Northern Soul
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 4.07

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Repeated listens reveal a brilliant album, 6 Dec 2001
This review is from: A Northern Soul (Audio CD)
The Verve's second LP may have been critically lauded, but small commercial returns and the volatile-at-the-best-of-times relationship between frontman Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe reaching a new low, meant the Wiganers split briefly before reforming to produce rock history with Urban Hymns in 1997. Unsurprisingly the reputation of the band's third album is how most listeners have discovered A Northern Soul, myself being no exception. Recorded under a massive intake of Ecstasy, most of the 12 tracks indulge in protracted, overblown stone rock passages, a far cry from even the most inaccessible sounds of Urban Hymns. Given repeated listens though, A Northern Soul reveals itself to stand apart from its successor as a great record and one that contains some of the group's best work.
Opening with the gleefully bombastically titled A New Decade and This Is Music Nick McCabe's walls of guitars together with Richard Ashcroft's searing vocals make for an utterly inspired opening, the latter containing the best opening line in a song ever! All the energy and vitriol of Urban Hymns is here, but not the slick, structure or relatively unambiguous tunes. These are acid rock rages and swirling atmospheres punctuated by Ashcroft's impassioned, often bizarre lyrics with the repeated ode, "Too busy staying alive/ Too busy living a lie" during the effects laden title track. Different yes, but certainly not worse. This illusive psychedelic style is present almost everywhere. Tracks that sound lackluster, even downright awful after a couple of listens, prove to be inspiring, powerful or beautiful, especially with the gentle washes of Drive You Home and Life's An Ocean. Even the thick, virtually indecipherable instrumentals of Brainstorm Interlude and Reprise, (usually the sort of thing tagged on at the end of albums) turn out to deserve more than use of the skip button.
The album takes lovely, heart breaking acoustic turns for On Your Own, a gentle ballad, beautifully ruing the solitary existence of life. But then out of the blue springs History, a song so brilliant it surpasses anything on this or any other album. Quite simply, one of the best songs in modern rock, The Verve's finest moment and without a doubt the greatest song virtually never heard. Released as a single after the band's first split, it was then their biggest chart success: wheezing to Number 24 in September 1995... about 23 places below where it should have charted. Its style it makes stick out like a sore thumb amongst a collection consisting mostly of psychedelic rock of, but its genius is undeniable. The beautiful string arrangements (by Wil Malone) and gentle acoustic guitars form the perfect backdrop to Ashcroft's passionate, mournful vocals. Inspired by the break-up with a long-term girlfriend, the five-minute outpouring is one of modern music greatest lyrics; since he has failed at love, he has failed at his life: "In every man/ In every hand/ In every kiss you understand/ That living is for other men." History is a shattering image of such failure.
Although History and On Your Own are definitely A Northern Soul's highpoints, the album has much, much more to offer, beyond these beautiful, accessible ballads. You just have to stick with it. Fans who purchased it back in 1995 can justifiably feel smug over all us fools who only discovered it after hearing the monolithic Urban Hymns two years later. This album stands by itself as a great work. On its own terms A Northern Soul is a masterpiece of psychedelic rock: ambiguous, pompous, frustrating, but ultimately brilliant and rewarding. The last thing it deserves is to be labeled solely as a dress rehearsal for Urban Hymns.


Urban Hymns
Urban Hymns
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 3.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding achievement, 6 Dec 2001
This review is from: Urban Hymns (Audio CD)
When Bitter Sweet Symphony hijacked UK radio in the summer of 1997 it not only provided THE most famous string melody in pop music, and one of greatest songs of all time, it also signified one very important thing: The Verve had made it... at last. Urban Hymns became one of the defining albums of the '90s and secured the Wigan band a place in rock history only for them to then call it a day for good 18 months later. Most could be forgiven thinking that this was the best and shortest lived debut band in history, yet for two albums had gone before this long overdue success. After the second LP A Northern Soul saw them ignored by the record buying public (History was their biggest hit, wheezing to Number 24 in September 1995) they split briefly before re-grouping (along with new member Simon Tong), to produce this string and psychedelic indie rock masterpiece. Yet as Ashcroft has maintained, Urban Hymns was simply a perfection of what The Verve had been about all along: the public just had to take notice.
Kicking of with one of the best singles of all time, the soaring Bitter Sweet Symphony has Ashcroft intoning passionately on the meaningless rat race that is life. Far from a desperate cry, the song is an arrogant, swaggering anthem of looking out for number one, that was encapsulated perfectly by Walter Stern's brilliant video of Ashcroft walking down a street, refusing to budge to anyone or anything that crosses his path. Even better though is the group's Number 1 hit The Drugs Don't Work. A beautiful neo-country blues lament with Ashcroft's mournful voice singing about hope through despair against a perfect backdrop of strings, acoustic guitars, and slide electronic guitars. It is reassuring to see such a brilliant yet overtly downbeat song topping the charts. The other two commercial tracks Lucky Man and Sonnet are equally mesmerising. The latter a sweet modern love song, the former a brilliant, upbeat yet introspective anthem of self-assurance. All four confirm Ashcroft as one of the lyricists of his generation.
Yet there is another side to Urban Hymns, the one that most were never expecting. That is psychedelic guitar rock. Glorious, complex and energetic rock instrumentals with Ashcroft employing Doors inspired repetition in his lyrics present the hidden treasures of Urban Hymns. Yet this is what The Verve had been about from the beginning, the roots of this sound are clear on their previous album, A Northern Soul. Yet here there is far more structure and coherence that had been missing from their previous work. The vitriolic rant of The Rolling People, the call to arms of Come On and the far mellower yet no less captivating songs of Space and Time, Catching the Butterfly, Weeping Willow and Velvet Morning. These songs about pills and come downs; by turns powerfully energetic and beautiful make Urban Hymns such a rewarding record and mark out Nick McCabe as one of the all time great guitarists. The singles pretty much hit home after a couple of listens, yet only after three or four listens do these totally non-commercial tracks reveal themselves in all their glory. Amid an album overflowing with such brilliance it is perhaps inevitable that there would be a couple of weak tracks and indeed the quite dreadful trawl of Neon Wilderness and Stone Roses acid-funk dabble This Time would not have missed. Yet these barely qualify as blemishes on a record that already stands as an all time classic.
Alas it didn't last. The five went their separate ways for good amid serious rifts between Ashcroft and McCabe, the fragile guitarist walking out in July 1998. Perhaps it was for the best if the relationship was as volatile as the rumours suggested, but for, oh such a brief moment; The Verve was clearly one of the best bands in the World. Not to mention of all time.


White Squall [VHS] [1996]
White Squall [VHS] [1996]
VHS
Offered by unclejohnsband
Price: 8.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Scott's best, but still worth a look, 12 April 2000
With masterpieces like Alien, Blade Runner and the criminally underrated 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Ridley Scott is one of my favourite directors. White Squall is something of a disappointment in that respect, but it certainly deserved better than the lukewarm reviews and dismal performance at the box-office it received. The plot follows the true story of a group of teenage boys as they do a lot of growing up on a ship lead by Ahab-like captain, Jeff Bridges. Unfortunately Todd Robinson's screenplay spoils what should have been an extraordinary tale of maturity and bravery by packing in far too many rites-of-passage clichés with a strangely tacked on finale straight out of Dead Poets' Society and I wonder what Scott saw in the script to begin with. He is after all, a director who usually sets standards that others follow, rather than the other way round. On the positive side, Scott's stunning visuals are all present and correct, with the golden photography and queasy camera-work perfectly capturing the force of the sea like no other film I have seen. Jeff Bridges once again proves why he is one of Hollywood's most unjustly ignored actors, giving a forceful performance that rises above the stereotype in the script. The youngsters are all excellent as well and the whole film is an oddly compulsive affair, with the storm of the title, when it comes is technically brilliant as it is terrifying and moving, but this could have been a classic if only it had a better script.


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