on 10 November 2004
This is one of those timeless albums that you can listen to now (six years after its initial release) and still enjoy it. Each of the songs still sound as fresh as today as they did back in 1997. With this album, the Verve hit a homerun.
I remember I was browsing through a CD store when I first heard "Bittersweet Symphony." It immediately caught my attention, and I stood rooted on the spot just listening. Very few times has an album jolted me like that, but this was one of those times. I asked the clerk who this was and he said that it was from the new album by The Verve. After "Bittersweet" was over, he told me to hold on and listen to "Lucky Man." It was after that I was sold -- I had to buy the album.
On this album, you get 13 little masterpieces -- there's not a filler track in the bunch. Besides the excellent songwriting, the production is outstanding. I haven't heard such a good mix of strings since Tony Visconti's work with T. Rex -- just listen to "Lucky Man," "Bittersweet Symphony," or "Sonnet" for proof.
The only downside is that the group broke up after this -- their finest moment! Of all the dumb luck. While Richard Ashcroft has gone on to do a couple of solo albums, they don't seem to capitalize on what The Verve had done on this album. Yes, he's the voice, the did much of the writing, but as the old saying goes: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Best album of the 1990's? This one, no question about it. After the Britney's, the Justin's, and all the other drivel from that era fades, this will be one of the albums people look back upon fondly. Rating: A+
on 24 December 2011
1997 saw big releases from Radiohead, Oasis, The Prodigy and The Verve. For my tastes, as a so called `old school' indie lover of earnest people making `jingly jangly' music of quality , it was the last reliably good year with only sporadic examples after that, many by the same artists who had been on the go since the 80s and early 90s (and even 60s in the case of The Beatles who released Free as a Bird).
I'd love to be able to write a review about how Urban Hymns is overrated. Bittersweet Symphony uses a riff from The Rolling Stones? Yes, but The Verve's song is very different. Anyway, repeated listens reveal that Urban Hymns does not come across as a football terrace anthem kind of album despite what the image of Richard Ashcroft nonchalantly brushing past passerbys in the Bittersweet Symphony video might suggest to some. Instead, Urban Hymns , with its experimental numbers such as Catching the Butterfly and Neon Wilderness, more closely comes to a combination of Brian Wilson's painterly way of using music in Smile. These songs, unlike any others that I have ever heard, capture the strange Brutalist atmosphere of a town or city. But the album is not just mining the 'isn't modern life grim and awful' angle. They find a magic in that kind of feeling. They are extraordinary pieces of music and the whole album should be regarded as like a modern piece of classical music. True, some songs do seem to be essentially the same kind of tune rewritten (The Rolling People and Catching the Butterfly) but it is a luxury that is welcome on this album.
One great thing about this album is the way that there is a stretch between The Drugs Don't Work and Lucky Man where there are 4 songs of a spacey experimental feel. Lucky Man then acts as a kind of coming down to earth. The final 2 songs, `Velvet Morning' and `Come On' are two of the finest closing songs on any album. They epitomise the kind of quiet desperation that must have enveloped the band as, knowing their own talent, they struggled to get it noticed and find this voice as a band, a voice that resulted in one of the finest British albums. `And now I'm trying to tell you about my life and my tongue is more twisted and more dead than alive and my feelings they've always been betrayed and I was born a little damaged man and look what they made. I said don't you find that it's lonely, the corridor you walk there alone. And life is a game you've tried. And life is a game you're tired'. I must be feeling low I talked to god in a phonebox on my way home'.
on 6 August 2006
Urban Hymns - for me the greatest record of all time. If I can somehow convey at least a part of the reason why I believe this to be true, I'll have done well. Because it's hard to put into words how good this album really is. Both musically and lyrically, it is as close to perfection as I think any record will ever get.
There are four very famous songs on here, but they are just one dimension to Urban Hymns, there is so much more to this record than the first four singles. Even so, each is outstanding. Bitter Sweet Symphony is emphatic, euphoric and exhilarating. The strings begin, but once the beat kicks in it sends a chill down my spine. Sonnet is sweet, a beautiful acoustic song. The Drugs Don't Work was number one on the day of Princess Diana's death. It has another beautiful acoustic melody, but The Verve are so good at adding depth to their songs, this is them at their best. And Lucky Man, if I had to choose, this is my favourite song on the album. It has been such an inspiration to me at difficult times of my life, whenever I feel low I can play it and it reminds me of who I am.
Then there are the nine other songs here which really make the album into what it is - a masterpiece. That word is overused a lot in music but here it truly does apply. There are three songs I'd like to point out here, which show that The Verve are more than just a one man show, and that they know how to rock out as well. The Rolling People is a huge song, full of spark and craft, "here we are the Rolling People, can't stay for long, we gotta go." Weeping Willow is the hidden gem on this record, if you aren't paying attention it can pass you by, but stop and pause to listen to this because I assure you it will grab you and suck you in. This is one of the most intense songs I've ever heard. I'd been playing this album for seven years before I discovered how great Weeping Willow "the pills under my pillow" really was. Then there is the raging climax - Come On. It is completely different to all that went before because rather than encouraging you to reflect, it encourages you to stand up and shout, with a fist in the air, "**** you - Come On!" I cannot think of a better way to end an album like this, one that takes you on such a life affirming journey, than to finish with such a jubilant celebration.
And still, there so many more great songs on Urban Hymns... "I'm gonna keep Catching That Butterfly in that dream of mine... in a Neon Wilderness, he was restless... there ain't no Space And Time to keep our love alive... maybe One Day we will dance again... good times are hard to hold, This Time I'm gonna find... into the half light, another Velvet Morning".
Altogether, these thirteen songs make up seventy-six minutes of pure genius from start to finish. It represents a great year in modern history, 1997, a year of hope; expectation, celebration and tragedy; but in the end, this album is completely timeless. I love it.
on 29 June 2009
In 1997 bands like Blur,Oasis,U2 and Radiohead were releasing long awaited albums, it's more suprising that the band who would come out of 1997 on top of the world would be a band who just 2 years before were on the verge of splitting up(although Radiohead fans might disagree), The Verve would release Urban Hymns in 1997 the sort of career defining album that Oasis should have released instead of Be Here Now. Apart from the odd stinker this album is among the greatest of the Britpop era. Songs like Bittersweet Symphony became the anthem of the year something Wonderwall was 2 years before, then The Drugs Don't Work was released the same day Princess Diana died and it suddenly captured the spirit of the nation and soon wen't to number 1, although nothing on the album captures the genius of these two tracks, there are some great songs on this album espcially the loud and brilliant rocker Come On and The Rolling People,spacey songs like Weeping Willow and Velvet Morning and lovely ballads like Sonnet and Lucky Man, this album has everything that perhaps Be Here Now doesn't great songs,great lyrics and more importantly it has recognition.
Key Tracks:Bittersweet Symphony,Sonnet,Rolling People,Drugs Don't Work,Space and Time,Lucky Man,Come On
Also Buy:(What's the Story)Morning Glory? by Oasis
on 16 March 2004
'Urban Hymns' is one of *those* albums - it should be found in everyones CD collection, and listened to religiously. They are hymns, after all!
The Verve have achieved something spectacular here. Each and every song on the album is a cracker, and together they form a cohesive whole. There is a flow between songs that is just *right*.
The songs themselves range from the catchy (but possibly somewhat longwinded) 'Bittersweet Symphony' to the contemplative, in 'The Drugs Don't Work'. However, it is when you move on from the hit singles that an album often reveals its true colours. Are the other tracks merely filler? Well, here, the answer is quite clearly "NO!" Particular highlights are the mood swings of 'Velvet Morning', the soaring triumphalism of 'Lucky Man', the melancholy of 'One Day' and the developing fury of 'Come On'.
All the tracks have clearly recieved a lot of love and effort, as the quality of production for this album is first rate. The ambient sounds and textures wrung out of guitars and electronics make this a CD you will always find something new to hear at every playing. The quality of the lyrics matches the quality of the music - there is not a bad line to be found. So, there you have it, an album scarily close to perfection.
All in all, an amazing, essential album.
on 15 August 2001
This album is special. 'The Drugs don't Work' is the finest song penciled for my generation and certainly the most powerful number one. It holds a timeless quality that is refreshing to hear in the current state of modern music. Just like Sinatra, Bacharach or Gaye - it will be heard and cherished by countless generations ahead of us. Elsewhere on the album, songs like 'Sonnet', 'Lucky Man', 'One Day' all carry an emotional weight that is unsurpassed by any contemporary songwriter alive today. But this album possesses a secret energy, a secret magic that only a band who have been through Hell & back can have. Richard's lyrics are as real as the empathy in his voice. They come from somewhere in him, somewhere from inside that many artists try to find, but ultimately fail. That seperates the geniuses from the rest of them. On this album, Richard is channelling all the power of experience and emotion onto pen & paper and while most of the focus is on love either lost or found, the results are magnificent. His soothing voice combined with Will Malone's sweeping string sections is a perfect and most of the time, a highly emotive combination.
It has to be special when an album both simultaneously makes & breaks the band.
Essential buy for anyone who really loves music.
Richard Ashcroft has never been one to undersell his own brilliance - his solo career may have been weak, and the first two Verve albums excellent, but on Urban Hymns the hype finally justified the mouth. Just as the Britpop bubble was about to burst, the Verve reformed for one last album, to sign off at their peak (although, obviously, they have since reformed again).
Urban Hymns is the distillation of everything great about the Verve, but with an extra poppy edge. The band generally reign in their psychedelic jams of the previous two albums, with notable exceptions being the fantastic 'Rolling People' and even better 'Catching The Butterfly.' The big singles are all here, from 'Lucky Man' to 'The Drugs Don't Work' right up to the world-conquering 'Bittersweet Symphony,' by itself one of the finest pieces of music ever made. Even the album tracks like 'Space And Time' sound like they could've been hits.
The album is admittedly, a tad too long for its own good (and the hidden track is pretty hopeless), but it remains the Verve's finest work and one Britpop's - and indeed, Britain's - defining albums. A must-have.
on 19 April 2001
I am sorry but those that are putting down this album really don't know what they are talking about. This in my opinion is probably one of the greatest albums of all time. The music,vocals everything-this album is truely a masterpiece. The songs have great depth and meaning to them. Bittersweet, Rolling people, Come on, Lucky man to name a few. When did you last hear an album this good. This album is not overproduced. Infact it has been put together with pure genius. Richards voice and Nick's strings coupled with great lyrics make this album a must have. It will instantly grow on you. The sad thing is that the band broke up but I don't think any follow up album could do this album any justice. I absoloutley love it and before I heard it I never ever listened to this kind of music. I really don't know why some people are putting the album down. It totally puzzles me. My advice-buy this album you will instantly be hooked on it. It is truly a landmark album and I feel it has not got the recognition that it deserves
on 23 March 2013
The Verve - Urban Hymns (EMI/Hut Records 1997)
Every now and then I like to think of how an album as accomplished as Urban Hymns is made, an album full of so much emotion, fine crafted arrangements true musicianship and honest social pathos.
However it has taken me a while to find time to sum up these thoughts in writing. here is one attempt to do so.
Urban Hymns can be defined as an album that sums up a complete era in Pop Music because it has got a gripping and all surrounding atmosphere.
At the time of it's release 1997 Urban Hymns was the album that presented Verve to a wider audience through the success of no less than four well rounded singles which is a great achievement in it's own right.
It is interesting to think about how fluid and care taken the whole album sounds in the end.
This album is one of the most solid albums I have ever heard.
in retrospect I think that must be seen as a brilliant result considering the growing conflict within the band at the time.
To be more specific the main conflict was between the members McCabe and Ashcroft.
McCabe has been quoted for saying the following about this album: "Urban Hymns had a lot of ballads - and I don't like ballads"
Regardless of what he might have felt during recording As a listener I think It is true to say the flow through out the album is with out flaws.
In My opinion With the inclusion of Simon Tong to fill in with extra guitar and keyboards to the groups sound brings the sound even more together. I think The Verve with their plentiful sound worked perfect as a quintet,
One notices that this album is more settled and controlled than the free flowing debut A Storm in Heaven In many ways it's also more layered and orchestrated than A Northern Soul
In short: the sound is more collected, than the albums from the bands early days.
It seems to have dissapointed some that the leaps and sways in the arrangements are somewhat fewer, but on the other hand the sound is more rounded and layered, it's more consistent.
Why is Urban Hymns so Likeable?
First off: Through out the album delivers, through all it's stages, Urban Hymns is a suiting, comfortable and rewarding listening experience.
Secondly: Contrary to common belief - The spacey floating sound from a Storm in Heaven in general and McCabes all over lingering influence in particular has not totally vanished from the Verve on Urban Hymns.
Correctly put the sound is just more brought together by the band as a tight unit.
The above stated is most evident on the great McCabe original Neon Wilderness which is a masterly carefully handled composition that brings the classic Verve sound to different level than before by keeping that atmospheric drifting sound and by keeping the laidback touch yet also bringing it a well needed rewarding sense of structure. Neon Wilderness is the shortest song on the album clocking at 2:38 and it's brilliantly brought together and executed with care.
As far as the album concept concerned it's also perfectly placed - bringing it all together in the middle of the album, yet it is also perfectly flowing in it's own right, in short brilliant without boasting about it.
The whole album is stellar and projects it's reflective and wandering/wondering mood to the listener.
Through out the album delivers.
The album may be famous for the singles, but fact is that through all it's stages, Urban Hymns is a suiting, comfortable and rewarding listening experience.
This is true despite the fact that a few tracks - like The albums final track Come On- are a bit rough around the edges.
Now please be advised that saying the album is consistent should not be misinterpreted as lacking in variety.
Rolling people and the aforementioned Come On for instance are true rock work outs of the slightly heavier kind.
On the same album we have songs like Sonnet, The Drugs and Velvet Morning is sombrely strumming with touches of folk, classical and even country via the pedal touches. Space and time delivers the layered swaying Verve sound complimented by a funk rolling beat and Byrdesque jangle and twang - A great move!
A similar concept is retrieved for songs like Lucky Man and One day albeit on these songs the twang and jangle leans more towards folk rock than that 5D like space rock aforementioned.
worth noting is that the although Byrdesque stylings are somewhat present here and there - the whole package is nevertheless truly characteristic of the Verve. This is because quite like Supergrass and The Smashing Pumpkins Verve are astonishingly talented in cupeling their own characteristic sound with the taking in of past influences in the end bringing it all to a new level in a complete package, delivered with precision, sincerity and a most impressive instinctive feel.
It's brilliantly atmospheric and stands the test of time. One could mention that to get into the whole album might demand some patience for the listener but it's all in all fully rewarding listening experience, and the layered production is most sophisticated, it leaves and impression on the one who listens to it, an album well worth the time and worth coming back to - not just for the hits. I think it's teriffic
Jan Freidun Taravosh
September 13th 2009
on 25 April 2003
Urban Hymns is one of those albums that is always a pleaseure to listen to. I myself had never even heard of The Verve until Bittersweet Symphony was released in the spring of '97, but that track alone offered a glimpe of the distinctive vocals of Richard Ashcroft, and I was sold. To be honest, when I listened to the album at first, only 3 tracks really stood out - Bittersweet Symphony, Lucky Man and The Drugs Don't Work. But listen again and you then appreciate the haunting vocals of Velvet Morning and Sonnet, and the brash, bullying sound of Come On. This album is a fine mixture of slow melodic, chill-out tracks and infectous lyrics that you can't avoid singing. I would certainly advise that you own this album, as it can lift you up when you need it, and console you when nothing else will. A must have.