16 October 1997

Review: Rolling Stone reviews "Urban Hymns"

Rolling Stone, Issue 771

- 3 1/2 stars out of 5

In the early '90s, the Verve were one of a gaggle of English bands playing a form of sprawling, sometimes monotonous psychedelia that overlooked hooks and choruses in favor of texture and atmosphere. Frustrated by a lack of success and the inability to get along, the Verve split up shortly after the release of their 1995 LP, "A Northern Soul." But now, after two years in limbo, the Verve have reunited and, with "Urban Hymns," crafted their strongest album to date.

Unlike their past material, which was often hypnotic but rarely melodic, the songs on "Urban Hymns" are anchored by propulsive guitar rhythms and sinuous, infections vocals. On the spacier numbers, the Verve still flutter and glow, but they no longer induce sleep; on the traditionally structured songs, they touch a tuneful, commercial nerve without ever losing their flair for innovation. The stirring "Bitter Sweet Symphony" intertwines baroque strings worthy of Pachalbel with sedated vocals and shimmering guitar lines. "The Drugs Don't Work," meanwhile, is a tear-stained ballad enhanced with sparse, nebulous horns and reverberating pedal steel guitar.

But while the music is rooted in escape, the lyrics address the need to cope. Frontman Richard Ashcroft is consumed with mortality, and on "Bitter Sweet Symphony," he sings, "Try to make ends meet, you're a slave to money, then you die." Rather than resign himself to the meaninglessness of it all, however, he seeks hope and support in love, which he expresses in "Space and Time": "Oh, can you comfort me tonight, make it all seem fine/I just can't make it alone." Trite as such verses sound, they work. "Urban Hymns" is a breathtaking venture, and ambitious balance of stargazing and worldly pathos.
  • Rolling Stone, by Jon Wiederhorn