Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Song reviews: The Verve

(Updated 9-26-07)

Currently: Velvet Morning, Neon Wilderness, I See the Door, No Come Down, Where the Geese Go, 6 O'Clock, One Way To Go, Twilight, Star Sail, MSG


The Verve
Velvet Morning
(on Urban Hymns, Virgin, 1997)
Grade: A

Track-By-Track with Richard Ashcroft
"I know the Lee Hazelwood song - 'some velvet morning when I'm straight' - and I just thought it was a bit funny. Obviously, the character in this song is far from that, and I think it's touching on those moments at seven or eight in the morning when you've gone from thinking you've solved the fucking world's problems to feeling like shit and walking out for a pint of milk. It's that fucking black-and-white sometimes! "It was another great night with the orchestra, and that loudhailer I'm singing through I just bought from a car boot sale the week before recording it. I just did it on the spot, but if you speed it up it sounds like a classic country hit!"

The Making of Urban Hymns
Velvet Morning
We had done several takes of it, none of which were quite right. It wasn't boredom but Rich wanted to try something for one of the takes, just to see what it sounded like. We ended up gaffer-taping a megaphone to the microphone. He sat down, played his acoustic guitar and sang into the megaphone. He only did it once but that one ended up being not only the take of the band but the vocal performance as well, which is kind of limiting because it was through a megaphone, so there wasn't really anything we could do about that. It might have been better with a straight sound but that happened to be the take we kept so we decided to go with it anyway. Pete recorded those big tom fills and we overdubbed them as a seperate part and sped the the tape up so they came out really de-tuned. There are twenty two strings again but they're not that important, they're sort of a bed underneath. Tongy plays great lap steel on it on the choruses, sounds like George Harrison. I don't think he'd ever played one before, we borrowed it from Eric Clapton who was working in the studio upstairs. Nick does a lot of what I call guitar shimmering or shimmeryness on it.

-UH producer, Chris Potter


For all the mention of The Drugs Don't Work and Sonnet, I personally think Velvet Morning is The Verve's sleeper. (The b-side Never Wanna See You Cry the best of any during the period.) I think it is Simon Tong's steel guitar that is making the werrrrr sound that ascends and descends, mirroring what Richard said about how the sun rises the next morning, and you've realised your life has gone from conquering the world to feeling defeated. Producer Chris Potter was correct that Richard's vocals could have been recorded straight and therefore clearer, but the megaphones effect of creating a distant and reflective feel would've been lost. These are also some of Richard's most coherent vocals to date, and the key moment is again the bands penchant for excelling during the building outro. At the 3:50 mark, Richard's vox seem to push higher on "He 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/And life is a game/You've tried". Applause to the building guitars that jump in at the 4:20 mark to set the song off even further. Special credit to the strings and Nick McCabe's "shimmery" guitar work in the outro that hits home and crystallizes the theme. Invaluable as a cross between a ballad and as an insular anthem.

Lyrics:

Yes
It's been long
And yes
I still feel strong
Into the half light
Another velvet morning for me, yeah

Time
Stands still
As you take
Your last pill
Into the half light
Another velvet morning for me

And now I'm trying to tell you
About my life
And my tongue is 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

Yes
I'm coming down
Your beauty is
A color surround
Into the half light
Another velvet morning for me

And now I'm trying to tell you
About my life
And my tongue is twisted
And more dead than alive
And my feelings
My feelings, they've been betrayed
And I was born a little damaged man
And look what they made

He 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
And life is a game
You've tried



The Verve
Neon Wilderness
(on Urban Hymns, Virgin, 1997)
Grade: A-

Track-By-Track with Richard Ashcroft
"This track we finished at 7am on the morning of the last day we were given to record the album. We'd spent a lot of time in the studio, and at some point, someone has to say 'Sorry, lads, it's over. Richard, give it up! "It's got that kind of late-night, city loneliness, when you're wasted and walking round that city at fuckin' five o'clock in the morning and moving from bar to bar. You can imagine it being behind 'Midnight Cowboy'."

The Making of Urban Hymns
Neon Wilderness
We were due to finish the album on a Saturday and I was finishing off the last mix. I think they'd been rehearsing for the tour and they were going to come down and check the mix out, finish it off and go through the running order. They came down, we finished the mix and then started fiddling around with this other guitar loop of Nick's which he'd done quite a while previously at Olympic (studios). We ended starting that track at six o'clock in the evening on the final day and finished about five in the morning. So it's the guitar loop with bass and drums on top of it. Rich did a pretty much ad-lib vocal. In fact I'm pretty sure it's all ad-lib. He just went out and did it, didn't have anything written down.



There is some definite disagreement from Verve fans on whether Neon Wilderness should have been included on Urban Hymns at all. It is the two and a half minute odd ball experiment on an album full of space rock, ballads, and jam rockers. It's been regarded as more of a sample, or a "leftover" from the A Storm In Heaven days.

If you ask me this is the ethereal experimental direction the band should have never completely deserted (though definitely tapered) in favor of Ashcroft's traditional singer/songwriter mold. It suppressed McCabe's already magnificent catalog of elemental guitar cascades, spirals, and ambience, ultimately leading to the bands creative downfall. Early Verve were composing their intoxicated dreams on tape as if reality and hallucination were one. The Verve sound could not be defined to any space or time. Music that IMO in several instances does not sound humanly produced, as if dreams can be granted and turned into reality.

Judging by Ashcroft's quote above, the band either didn't get all of their idea out, or there was a Part 2 to the song that they didn't get to. I'm not going to speculate on "what if?" since my outlook on the track is about being in the moment rather than the music's journey. The almost 'out of body and mind' experience you have of being somewhere familiar yet unfamiliar because of ones intoxicated perceptions.

Neon Wilderness is sonic genius. I fathom over how music so complex and dense can also at the same time sound so clear within each instrument? Nick McCabe's opening guitar lines sound like a lonely whale calling for its lost baby. Bassist Simon Jones' drama lays out the groundwork as if stepping onto foreign soil. His bass identical to and leading the way for Ascroft's "Uh huh huh..." falsetto. Drummer Peter Salisbury always providing the spot-on rhythm with pushed back, clattery, and echoed beats that trail off into the night. Singer Richard Ashcroft's gift for ad-libbing shines through at its brightest. On paper his lyrics are usually poor, but here his short phrasing melds with the esthetics dark aura ("In a neon wilderness/He was restless/Escape loneliness/For a new address"). Uncertainty, hopelessness, and yet determination to overcome what isn't real surround Ashcroft in this intoxicated haze. McCabe's chimed crystalline guitar stretches to vastnesses within the mind unimagined. Then at the 1:50 mark he alters the perception with a delicate yet coarse guitar cut so deep that the word "haunting" begs a new dictionary definition.

As some critics have said, the Verve sound has many meanings to many different people. If it weren't for the bands intoxication, I could easily see it being a pictoral blueprint of what space is like. The dead blackness kept alive with bright white stars. The unknowing journey into a mysterious void where nothing is safe. In several instances during their elemental experimental excursions, the Verve had the seemingly impossible gift of mimicing to near perfection the environment which they though to bring out in their music. Neon Wilderness just seems to embody all the insecurities of a familiar yet foreign environment. So infinite it plays to everyones own special meaning.



I See the Door
(On Your Own single, EMI, 1995)
Grade: A

I take comfort in hearing NME call I See the Door "messy". It's true. It isn't a cleanly played recording, but the ballad shines through those limitations because of the bands conviction and Ashcroft's "heartbreaking passion". It will likely make many fans' Top 10 because of the emotional weight set forth.

I think music works best when longing is the central theme. Reaching for something that is always out of hands reach, and the pain that comes with it. Ashcroft's slow singing accentuates the moment over the even tempos five minutes, revealing a hurt every listener has heard before, but rarely captured with such thick and naked poignancy.

This is also a fine example of Simon Jones' classicism on bass. He provides the key framework for the band to ride on his trail with steady acoustics, McCabe's occasional [non-Mississippi] electric blues flourishes, and some faint background vocal harmony. Comes with the touching "I have seen things that I can't explain/Looking through windows, feeling the same/I have seen moments I'd like to share/Scared that you don't want me there". Followed by the band elevating their play with an intense 'that's life' outro with Richard repeating "ba ba ba...". McCabe's guitar adding some weaving friction, and Richard with a second vocal part pushed back ("It's a battle, it's a battle...) and fading out as the acoustics downtempo.

I See the Door is best suited for small intimate venues with lighters flickering. If only it had not been played so messy it might've been given an A+.

Lyrics:
Light...I see the light
You're there on my floor
You're there on my floor
Fly...angel fly
You're out of sight
You're out of sight

She came in a dream, Lord
No way to describe it,
It was in my head
I burn but I don't scream
No way to describe it,
It is in my head
I have seen things that I can't explain
Looking in through that window pane
Open your eyes and let me in
Don't go to think that I don't care
So...I see the door
I see the door
I see the door

It came in a dream, Lord
No way to describe it,
It was in my head
What's life without a scream, lover?
No way to describe it,
It was in my head

I have seen things that I can't explain
Looking through windows, feeling the same
I have seen moments I'd like to share
Scared that you don't want me there,
My lover
Scared that you don't want me there,
My lover
(It's a battle, it's a battle...)



No Come Down, Where the Geese Go, 6 O'Clock, One Way To Go, Twilight
(No Come Down, Vernon Yard Recordings, 1994)
Grade: A+

Seamless sonic perfection. One of the most overlooked Verve tracks period. No Come Down literally never does come down! Over the course of three minutes, The Verve exist just outside the realm of the human conscious in a state of lovely bohemian mysticism. Jones guides the band to the light with deep basslines while Sobbo provides the tribal drumming with delicate cymbols and hand beats. The two together are in the drivers seat with an addicting blend of bass and groove, married together like brotherly kinship. McCabe's high-pitched chords take off into dancing flights of fantasy with the greatest of ease, as if the wind is controlling his every chordly movement. So whispy, feathery, and satisfying it is like taking a deep breath of fresh country air. Ashcroft's elongated elementals cover the horizon with shamanesque spiritualism. All the pieces together creating a sheen of an intoxicating dreamlike passage.

It's been said by one AMG critic that She's a Superstar and Feel are The Verve's purest music. But they were wrong. The five produced tracks on the B-sides No Come Down (Where the Geese Go, Six O'Clock, One Way To Go, Twilight) need to be included. A song so rich and transparent it feels like it has centuries worth of history behind it. Considering The Verve's kaleidoscopic uncontrolled violence around this time on their A-sides, you realize how enormous an accomplishment it was to have set a new standard in purity.

Lyrics:
Keep the thought and I know you've been hotter
I never hurt you
I pray to follow
Now I want to swallow
Every part of you



World of Pop Meanderings
"No, I don't even like guitars! I like synthesizers. I got my first one when I was fourteen and I liked it..then I picked up a guitar. I tried to do it my own style, just wanting to make the guitar sound more like a synthesizer."

"Urban Hymns was filled with ballads and I'm not into ballads."
-Nick McCabe

Music Saves
"Verve aren't sinking, they're floating several miles high, drifting way beyond any reference points that may have called them into being."- John Setzler

These quotes more than just about any others highlight for me why Where the Geese Go exists as a creation in the first place. The Verve were simply more passionate and dared to dream bigger than nearly all of their peers. McCabe doesn't even like guitars, and his chimed liquid gold doesn't even sound like an instrument called into being. I also think it's extremely important to note what McCabe says about ballads. He doesn't even like them, and Where the Geese Go is a far greater vision and more beautiful testament than any traditional ballad could ever proclaim.

Arguably The Verve's B-side crowning achievement. Where the Geese Go is life's pleasant surrealities consumed in McCabe's kaleidoscopic psychedelic tapestry. His chords sounding at their most liquid and unguitarific. Jones and Sobbo providing a steady path of rhythm for Ashcroft and McCabe to skyward over. Richard's hushed vocals begin the story with gentle acoustics before his produced counterparts glide in and soar like a consumate sheen of soundscape touching the sky, leaving a trail of mystery yet clarity, capturing to an unimagined tee the imagery and sound of geese flying to their new destination ("I felt surprised/That you wanted to know/Where the geese go/When it snows"). McCabe's fully fledged genius at first creating a boundless array of buoyant aqua beauty before the band selflessly fade away from rhythm, vocal, and then shaker for the effortless guitarist to take the outros reigns. His infinite kaleidoscopic passages enveloping to take their own shape, sounding aerial, ballooning, ambient, pulsing, and spiraling. The sounds ebb and flow like a concoction of dreamy bubbly effervescence whipped upward. Other times circling away and creating a new dimension. Their own mirage in the sky. A tranquil meditation.

Lyrics:
You get the burn
We're on the train
I feel no pain
I feel no pain

You set the sights
But I'm already there
Do you care?
Do you care?

I can't get it out of my head
When you said
I'm gonna leave

I felt surprised
That you wanted to know
Where the geese go to
Late at night
I'm feeling fine
What is it inside
It's inside

And I can't get it out of my head
When he said
I'm leaving



On shoegazer music:

AMG
The sound of the music was overwhelmingly loud, with long, droning riffs, waves of distortion, and cascades of feedback. Vocals and melodies disappeared into the walls of guitars, creating a wash of sound where no instrument was distinguishable from the other.

A masterpiece in shoegaze esthetics. The Verve and producer John Leckie have truly captured the feelings of being on drugs to a hypnotic picturesque. Richard Ashcroft's floaty "6 O'clock I'm wasted..." creates the imagery with distilled stillness. For the first two minutes the band ride this slow tempoed wave of intoxicated transparency as if in a trance. McCabe occasionally taking the notes up into flights of delicate levitation, with a beautiful and poignant chimed scale that signals the movement of the rhythms trajectory into dramatic intensifying. Richard sings "Here comes the blue light..." as if preparing to enter the minds eye, and the band climb higher and higher in intoxification. But unlike A Storm In Heaven's uncontrolled violence, the band remain incredibly restrained and discipline, reveling in the state of hallucinotopia without sounding like an overproduced mess (which ASIH is not). McCabe adds reverberated feedback and skyscraping flourishes that light up the mind while Jones and Sobbo provide jawdropping rhythm as if gently marching to the promise land. Ashcroft's carefree vocals drowning in the moment. It is in these moments that The Verve have created a hallmark, a shoegazer blueprint standard. The feelings of being immersed in the climbing wall of sound and consumed whole. Then during the outro, the band return to the slow untempo they started with as if the drugs fireworks have decreased back to a calm, reflective high ("6 o’clock I’m wasted/She is in my bones again/City’s all gone right dead/May as well find my way").

For those who miss the days of instrument clarity, 6 O'Clock argues against those notions in pure psychedelic bliss.



The most skyward track of the five produced on No Come Down. The seven minute One Way To Go opens with a call and response between McCabe's vivid shimmer and Jones' underlying pulsations. McCabe then takes off into the atmosphere with stark essence while Jones occasionally takes more heartbeat definition. Ashcroft's heavenly crescendo covers the horizon with echoage (I'd rather diiiiiie...than see you fly/Than see you try). The band taking the tempo higher and higher under a bed of air (It's like pushing locked doors to get in your mind/I don't know what I'll find), then lowering themselves into a pool of calm before taking the outro into a jammy shimmery height. Life-affirming.



The purest of the pure Verve tracks. (Though I'm wondering why this is called Twilight instead of "Dawn" or "Morning"? Birdies are singing and harmonica mimics the morning environment.) The band providing the oh-so-delicate rhythm while Ashcroft laments over what could have been ("What I said/Couldn't be that good/Because you left/You left"). I'm assuming that's McCabe's droopy guitar lines. The harmonica capturing the sorrow and loss. Under three minutes of richness in reflective remorse. A hazy dazy feel packed with an environmental purity and seclusion to ones own thoughts. Brilliantly understated, sleepy, and tranquil.



Star Sail
(A Storm In Heaven, 1993)
A+

McCabe's initial distortions are like an entry into space, followed with kalediscopic chimming, "ringing"-Graveyard Poet. That is Simon Jones providing the backing vox "ahhhh" duped to the point of having the mysterious, lordian weight of an entire choir. (A keystone in engineering.) McCabe's vituoso turning more dizzying and violent before Ashcroft's uncertain steps of ""Hello, it's me, it's me, calling out, I can't see you/Hello, it's me, crying out, crying out, are you there?" But then listen to the weight and catharsis of McCabe's reverb. It's as if he's throttling his guitar, and at the same time outputting all other chord-happy guitarists, with a few strokes of reverb, before releasing something even bigger...

"I've been calling home for 20 years and in that time I heard the screams rebound to me while you were making history" -- Listen to this moment where the effects climb along with Aschcroft (2:50) before reaching it's peak, and extending past boiling point into apocolyptic madness with "I could see the fiiiiiiires!" (2:57), like hell's anger being released. McCabe's guitars clash and strike down like unforgiving lightning. It is in these frenzied moments of the track that do not sound humanly possible. Elemental genius. Then the music dissipates into a calm, reflective trail to where it came from.

For me it is a description like no other of universal existence and the rising and falling of violent tides. The Big Bang, a shooting star, chaotic weather patterns -- and for that matter, human history. (Many of these attributes are consistent throughout ASIH.)

Whatever it is, if I didn't know it was The Verve, I'd have to say it was alien, like an apocolyptic that escaped the confinement of dreams. It makes many of the "untouchable" classical pieces sound earthly, and second-place, in comparison. As one person said, it "expands the mind." It makes you realise how small the earth is in comparison to uncharted galaxies. The music is so infinite, and I'm afraid I've failed with words.



MSG
(Lucky Man #1, EMI, 1997)
B+

"'MSG' is a heavily atmospheric vignette that pulses along on narcotic bass groove, eschewing any conventional melody for intermittent showers of orchestral strings, guitar washes, and blurry vocal lines to promote its feeling of druggy euphoria." -by Brian Horgea, AMG

MSG rarely gets talked about, and that's OK because it seems to be more of an exhibition for Chris Potter's genius seamless sonics and Jones and Sobbo's impenetrable rhythm. In short, MSG needs to be included in the running as one of purest displays of bass & rhythm, period.

The track's intro starts with enormous rolling and echoed drum fills. (I cannot really describe them except they remind me of those huge metal-like drums that sit sideways and have a hollow effect to them.) There's these really beautiful sounding twinkling keys that illuminate and a kind of gentle wash effect that reminds me of a misty breeze. Richard's falsetto is pushed back and glides on a distant trail. All this is wrapped in the Verve's signature spacy mystery. Clicks, thumps, and some circular "reer reer reer"'s with a bird-like effect are prominent. I especially love the 4:20 mark because the music moves forward and Jones's bassline is still underneath in heavy form. Sobbo's beats become louder and more magnified yet are typically clean and precise. IMO MSG is really for them. Richard sings, "I am not afraid," and this is a medium-paced jam. The song structure doesn't take any huge turns in direction, nor is that the point since the emphasis is on the subtle production details and everlasting rhythm. I was going to grade this something less, but the groove is so intoxicating. This is masterful mood music. Close your eyes and enjoy the ride.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Graveyard Poet said...

"There is some definite disagreement from Verve fans on whether Neon Wilderness should have been included on Urban Hymns at all. It is the two and a half minute odd ball experiment on an album full of space rock, ballads, and jam rockers. It's been regarded as more of a sample, or a "leftover" from the A Storm In Heaven days.

If you ask me this is the ethereal experimental direction the band should have never completely deserted (though definitely tapered) in favor of Ashcroft's traditional singer/songwriter mold. It suppressed McCabe's already magnificent catalog of elemental guitar cascades, spirals, and ambience, ultimately leading to the bands creative downfall. Early Verve were composing their intoxicated dreams on tape as if reality and hallucination were one. The Verve sound could not be defined to any space or time. Music that IMO in several instances does not sound humanly produced, as if dreams can be granted and turned into reality."



WOW...I could not agree more with what you have said. The hidden gem on "Urban Hymns", without a doubt.

6/08/2006 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Mark Wilde said...

I really really enjoyed your reviews of the B-sides from "No Come Down"--it definitely makes me want to get the album!

How does it compare to The Verve EP
and A Storm in Heaven?

MARK (Graveyard Poet)

8/26/2006 8:11 PM  
Blogger RedEyesnFoggyHeedz said...

verve tunes to download including Black sessions

http://encouragingechoes.blogspot.com/

7/07/2007 4:13 PM  

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