It's been said, many times before, that the mark of a great record is that it reminds you of other great records, reconnecting you to the score of rocks past. That, however doesn't make a record great it merely makes it great bounded by quotation marks because all it qualities have already been defined. As with Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque or Black Crowes The Southern Harmony..., their existence is only made possible by the fact that their ceiling has already been set.
If you're willing to hook into the past, the first casualty is invariably the will to escape. Rather than people who are fixated on rock's legacy, maybe we should look to those who are mesmerized, those who can allow us to glance off the map, into uncharted territory.
This is Verve's Richard Ashcroft:
"Anyone can pick up a guitar and play Heroin by the Velvet Underground, but not everyone who picks up a guitar can create something that sounds fresh and new. What's the point of closing yourself in when you've been given the chance to make music? Maybe you'll make only one record in your life, that's the way we see it when we record. We record as if it's the last thing we're ever going to do, purely because you get the most out of yourselves. It's not in a music way, it's just in an expanding way, and not being afraid to use certain sounds, certain instruments. Maybe with the new LP, A Storm In Heaven, and a few records that have proceeded it, the doors are finally being broken down as far as expression on record, and expression as far as the band are concerned. The way I look at it is that it's time for people who want to create to create, and people who want to be out there in mediocrity to sink."
Verve aren't sinking, they're floating several miles high, drifting way beyond any reference points that may have called them into being. A Storm In Heaven isn't just a "great" record, it's a great "great" record, one that reminds you of records you've never even heard, and makes you dream of records that might one day exist. Verve reach out, not to plunder trinkets from rock's past, but for the sheer task of reaching out, as if the act alone gives rise to the concept of a future, a future defined only by the thirst for it, as real and yet as indefinite as the light emanating from a projector lens as it disperses into space.
This is Verve's Richard Ashcroft: "I think there are tracks on the album that relax you and bring you down again, but the rock thing, the problem with a lot ot bands is that if I like the Byrds- and okay, I like the Byrds, we all like the Byrds- it doesn't mean we have to pick up Rickenbackers and sound exactly like them We like Funkadelic, and we like touches of Led Zeppelin, we like all sorts of music, but it doesn't mean you have to hone in and rip it off. Because our music tastes are so wide and so varied, we're not in love with one particular band. You sponge in all those things, and then in turn you don't rip them off, because you've got so much going on there in your head.
Someone once wrote that his definition of beauty was all the things that never get said, because language only reveals the truth when it exhausts itself and comes apart at the seams. Verve seem to do the same thing with music. A Storm In Heaven doesn't reconnect musical dots to close in on specifics, rather it demarcates a space in-between, an absence, as if it's gesturing towards a silence that would resolve all the tensions giving it breath. What makes It so expressive is its inability to
encapsulate itself, the way Richard Ashcroft can hold the centre any yet never sounds self-centred, the way he releases his voice as though it were an offering he can't claim back. Verve's music is all vapours and hallowed, transient moments, slipping through their fingers like a hand trailing through water, but it isn't the sound of old-before-their-time ennui, it's the invigorating sound of idealism.
Verve's unselfish magnetism could be what Main's Robert Hampton was getting at with the title of one ot his own tracks, Feed The Collapse, something that radiates energy, and yet maintain the same mass, the same gravity. Something that draws you in and disperses you outwards at the same time, like a perpetual regeneration.
Do Verve's tracks seem like works in progress?
"I suppose they could be," replies guitarist Nick McCabe. "That's one of the good things about us, because it's a living breathing thing. You can see some bands every night, and it's just cold. I think some people see quality as being professional and tight, but what does it matter? I like seeing a band fuck up one night, and then seeing them excel the next."
Richard: "We're lucky enough to have the freedom from the record company. Everyone around us is totally in tune with what we're doing, from the sleeve designs to everything, and to have that group around us gives us an immense amount of freedom to and a definite focus to let ourselves go. It's that freedom we thrive on, and I think that bands owe it to their audience, they owe it to people who are striving to be in bands, to people who love music, to expand on that freedom."
According to all the original forecasts, Verve should have been making regular appearances on Top Of The Pops by now, they should have had the sunday papers briefly turning their attention away from Eric Clapton to pen "What's all the fuss about?" type articles. But it didn't happen. There may have been a loss ot nerve on the part of the press, but in the light of what Verve were becoming, from the ten- minute She's A Superstar onwards, it was simply too much to ask. For all Richard's charisma, Verve were proving too elusive and too wrapped up in their own ideals to articulate the singular identity that fame demands. It wasn't that the affection was unwarranted, it was just that the affection found too much detail to deal with.
Richard: "The odd time a band like us gets on the cover of the music papers, it definitely is worthwhile, there definitely is something there, and there's nothing around like that. There are so many times you get let down with bands that are hyped, and I'm not being arrogant and overambitious, but I don't think we were hyped enough. I don't think hype is the right word for us. I think truth is more like it."
Perhaps one of the things that makes hyping Verve difficult is that hype needs to create a community in order to stop itself from collapsing, and that community has to be bound by certainty, something that states itself in no uncertain terms. Verve offer a less definite sense of belonging, not declaring themselves as "right here, right now", but declaring that there's always further to go. To be in touch with Verve, you have to lose your grounding, to offer yourself to chance.
"We don't like dealing in specific emotions," Richard explains, "we don't like saying `this song is going to be about this...'. We encapsulate love, the feeling of hate we've got inside us, the way it flows out, and the way our music interacts with the listener, and the audience when we play live. One song can mean a hundred different things. Its that sort of room we've got to manoeuvre in, that sort of room we can play with people's emotions and play with our own emotions. We're different every night, because we're humans, and we react to things around us. So many bands can play the same set for two years, which is inhuman. It's machine-like and boring.
"We want to open ourselves and other people out. We always set out to be a band that was never good in brackets. When we started there was all the Scene That Celebrates Itself crap. We didn't give a second thought to that. We weren't even a reaction to that. We were just ourselves, and we will always be ourselves."
Nick: "That's what people find so strange, isn't it, because they're not used to listening to something that's not really packaging. It's like an organism. It really does have a life of it's own. There's no veneer, what you see is what you get. You see so many bands that aspire to be something', and we're not `something'."
Richard: "Yeah, we don't even know what that `something' is we're heading for. We're letting it flow, and we'd much rather be out of any scene. Maybe we're too extreme, maybe we're too unfashionable, and that's the way I'd like it to stay. In the end, when people hear the album, and we record another album and they see us live, I think we'll have our own identity and our won right in this music business. At first it was difficult to break in, because people don't want to put their arms out to you and love you, to feel that this is is a great band because they don't know what brackets to put you in. Music is about making people think and react, not giving them something on a plate."
When you started the band, was it a way to get out of your own situation at the time?
Richard: "Definitely, it's that thirst for experience, that thirst for energy and that feeling you get from music which will keep us writing, because we haven't achieved anything yet. We've written some good records, yeah, but there's a long way to go. We're as skint as we were when we started, and I'm pleased about that. I don't want bags of money, because I'm sure money takes away the thirst to write great music, as we've seen with all great bands. They always seem to reach a peak and then die out, because they're too busy fucking in the back of the van, doing all the rock'n'roIl clichés, which are just silly and boring. I think the nineties is a time for people to really concentrate on doing great records, and not all the crap that comes along with it.
It doesn't seem to be in Verve's character to do anything just because they can. You get the feeling that they only things that will satisfy them lie just beyond their own horizons. Somewhere distant.
"Our ambitions are great, but we don't know what they actually are. There's no end goal, it's just to go as far as possible. The music's not about the realistic, it's about the unachievable being achieved. We've got the age on our side, we've got the musical taste, and we've proven on the album that we can create. So for me, I really feel as if we can write some of the greatest records for a long time, and A Storm In Heaven is a great start."
A great start is something Verve achieve over and over again. No wonder there's no end in sight.
- Source: Lime Lizard, written by John Setzler