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Mar 14

THE VERVE – “The Drugs Don’t Work”

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#773, 13th September 1997

verve ddw “Whenever we played that live there would be rows of grown men crying. It was almost like these guys couldn’t cry when they needed to cry, but that song operated like a pressure valve for them and it was okay for them to cry at a big rock concert.” – Richard Ashcroft on “The Drugs Don’t Work”

The list of number ones is not a complete history of anything except itself: it’s an iceberg party, a throng of bobbing and jostling tips – rock, hip-hop, reggae, indie, cinema, politics, comedy, charity, marketing and more, each one an incomplete and distorted story. But sometimes – when a berg seems over-familiar – the tiny and partial story told by the tip can put a new spin on it.

So the rock and indie number ones of 1996-1997 have seemed to me to tell a story about anxiety, a crisis of legitimacy for rock music. “Setting Sun” brutally demonstrated that it was impossible simply to pick up where the 60s innovations had left off. “Discotheque” suggested that other musics could no longer be easily absorbed into the working practises of a rock band. And Oasis were a walking declaration that a traditional band line-up should be the centre of pop, simply by right and by confidence – and it had worked, until Be Here Now showed the limits of this fiat rock.

But there are other things rock can do beyond innovation and simple hugeness. “The Drugs Don’t Work” leads us to one of them: rock could get emotional. Specifically, rock could thrive as a venue for great big male emotions, a conduit by which confused 21st century guy feels could be expressed and released at stadium scale and numbing pace. Creation’s Alan McGee, a partisan of more swaggering styles, coined an ugly, dismissive term for it: ‘bedwetter music’. He was talking about Coldplay, but he could have been talking about Keane, Athlete, Snow Patrol – bands who, like them or not, were Britain’s main solution to the “what is rock for?” riddle.

Tying this to The Verve might seem wrong. The Verve were part of Oasis’ moment, not Coldplay’s – their previous album, A Northern Soul, used Oasis’ producer Owen Morris, and as Matt DC pointed out to me, the reason Urban Hymns ended up outselling Be Here Now was because it offered a similarly mammoth, but apparently more consistent and thoughtful, alternative for disappointed buyers.

That side of the band always fought against a still earlier incarnation. At the heart of the group was an instinct to meander. Early singles – like 1992’s “Gravity Grave” – cast Richard Ashcroft as a psychedelic pilgrim, cloudwalking wide-eyed through his band’s blown-out songs. It was an outrageously corny take on psychedelia, all the more so for its fixed-stare sincerity. At the time I thought myself far too hip for it, but secretly enjoyed it anyway.

But once they started writing more structured songs, their best tracks were usually the ones where Ashcroft tapped into this questing side. “History” wraps itself up in William Blake references and comes on like a Northern Jim Morrison, and again uses aggressive sincerity as a get-out-of-jail card to cover the track’s wayward structure: when you mean it this much, who cares that the song just fizzles at the end? “Bitter Sweet Symphony” – the breakthrough – does the same thing with a fantastic stolen hook, and a groove and theme which means the endless voyaging and the lack of resolution become the point rather than something Ashcroft is trying to front his way through. But the famous video sums up the underlying game very well – Ashcroft crashing into passers-by who get in the way of his vision quest. It’s the Gallagher attitude applied to philosophy: weaponised introspection.

That’s the link between The Verve and the Coldplay era – that sense that the singer’s giant sensitive feelings are the most important thing in the world, and that as such they deserve only the broadest, slowest, most self-serious music as accompaniment. As you’ve probably realised, I don’t like this music very much – not that this makes me a critical maverick – and “The Drugs Don’t Work” both succeeds and fails by pointing towards this glum, widescreen version of rock.

“The Drugs Don’t Work” is a small, bleak song nestled inside a larger, lazier one, and the small song takes The Verve out of their psychedelic comfort zone and back down to grey, inescapable, Earth: it’s Richard Ashcroft writing about his dying Dad. Of course, the song works if it’s just about comedowns, or a chemically-defined relationship, but this is one time when learning the song’s authorised subject improves it. It’s already got the cat in the bag metaphor – an ear-seizing image, one of the year’s most arresting lyrics – but “If you want a show / Just let me know / And I’ll sing in your ear again” becomes a devastating line when you set it in the hopeless quiet of a hospital ward. Ashcroft tones down his rock prophet style to sound confused and exhausted, and Nick McCabe drops in the occasional lonesome whale cry.

It’s sombre, effective, it’s what (I guess) the record is best remembered for, and it’s only about half the song. All the “ooo sha la la” parts, all the “whoa Lords”, and especially Ashcroft’s vamping at the end are big rock boilerplate, and for me they blow the effect. A song which works because it’s grounded in a relatable experience turns into another trot through the rock frontman playbook. The ‘Mad Richard’ urban shaman shows up again at the most inappropriate time.

The most obvious effect was just to make “The Drugs Don’t Work” longer. We are in an era of Number One bloat, where bolting on an extra minute comes as standard, and I think it particularly hurts this record. Perhaps I’d feel different front-and-centre at a Verve gig, but for me that whole string-driven coda doesn’t feel redemptive or healing, it’s just a reminder that – as with “History” – Ashcroft is awful at sticking the landings of songs and prefers to bluff his way out of them. The bluff plainly worked, but the ideas and the emotional weight of “The Drugs Don’t Work” ease up well before halfway. In the wider story of British rock, it’s a transitional Number One, a song whose hurt and confusion are sabotaged by its worn-out nods to rock enormity. The next generation of massive UK bands would smooth out these conflicting impulses, and find ways of doing emotion at arena scale. Most of their hits are as dreary and draining as “The Drugs Don’t Work” winds up being, but few are as frustrating as this song, because few of them have its kernel of quality in the first place.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Izzy on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Well I think this is beautiful, and yet Tom’s review is mostly correct too. It’s close to unmarkable, personally – it means an awful lot to me, and yet everything it points the way to is worse and yes, the boilerplate spoils it in the end. But ultimately I mark a record for its highs, and this soars. (8)

    One thing about The Verve is that they were terrific players – you hear that particularly on the early stuff, rather than the song-anchored group they mutated into. I remember Bernard Butler euphoric over the experience of playing with them, when he joined them for about a fortnight in one of his brief forays post-Suede.

    I like this space-country version.

  2. 2
    Lazarus on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Perfect for a slightly hungover Sunday morning. The interesting question is whether this would have gone to Number One if the country hadn’t been, at it seemed, in a state of collective mourning. Ashcroft was a mate of the Gallaghers, wasn’t he, ‘Cast No Shadow’ supposedly being written about him. I like this and would go a little higher than 4, although again it’s from an album I haven’t played in a long time. Great piece, anyway, and I think it’s fair to say that the next entry is eagerly awaited!

  3. 3
    Izzy on 23 Mar 2014 #

    A correction to no.1. The link to this space-country version: http://youtu.be/ZmdXB9qt3LY was lost to the edit.

  4. 4
    wichitalineman on 23 Mar 2014 #

    This really felt like the end of something. British rock was feeling sorry for itself – not that surprising when its upbeat side was by now represented by Space and Catatonia.

    The other group who should be mentioned here are Radiohead – Paranoid Android had just been a huge hit, multi-part, self-important, and also using a funereal pace to indicate big emotions.

    TDDW, though, I found genuinely moving, having had no time for Mad Richard and his “take me seriously” antics at any time before or since. The shift to the sweet “ooooh” section around 2.10 is what makes the song for me. It’s unexpected, and feels like reflection and resignation (again, it probably helps when you know the subject matter).

    I think you’re quite harsh on the coda, which is no more than 20 seconds too long, though it could be wrapped up sooner by finishing without a fade. And I know you have issues with “oh lord” type ad libs that stretch right back to Perez Prado’s grunts on Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White and the horrible vamping at the end of Mighty Quinn, but I don’t find they trash what’s gone before on The Drugs Don’t Work; maybe they lose it a point. An 8 from me.

  5. 5
    Cumbrian on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I was trying to find this pair of quotes about The Verve but can’t seem to find them on the Internet. Both seem fairly apposite given the review.

    The first was some critic describing The Verve, around/after Urban Hymns as being “Celine Dion for teenage boys”, which strikes me as good criticism. Either sneer at both or accept both as being valid means of connecting with audiences but they are very similar in what they’re trying to do, I think.

    The other was, I think, from Richard Ashcroft himself around the time of Urban Hymns, where he claimed that there were no Verve tribute bands, with the implication that their sound was not replicable (though why there would be a tribute band to a group that, prior to Urban Hymns had peaked at 24 on the singles chart is a mystery to me). That might have been the case prior to Urban Hymns with the exceptions of the odd song here and there but it’s telling that there are Verve tribute acts out there now. Much of Urban Hymns is replicable – and also it got them to the point where a tribute act might actually make some money by regurgitation of those songs. It also means other bands can produce work in this vein, refine it and get big with it themselves.

    These two points, in a nutshell, wound up being my problem with The Verve, though to be honest, it’s more a problem with Richard Ashcroft. When the lyrics were buried in the mix and seemed to be fairly meaningless, when the band – who as Izzy points out were a pretty good ensemble in that shoegazey sort of style – led what was happening, I really enjoyed them. I still do to be honest – all the tripped out stuff from prior to Storm In Heaven, through to A Northern Soul are things that I still find myself returning to now and again. There is an example of this on the B-Side of one of the CDs actually – Stamped – most of this kind of thing got relegated to B-Sides for Urban Hymns. Once it all got a bit more Richard focused, it just didn’t have it for me.

    That said, knowing the back story for this, it’s much more relatable than some of the other tracks that Ashcroft has done, especially running through into his, mostly pretty dismal, solo career. I am with Lino and think this is actually pretty good.

    2: I have a vivid memory of the sales for this happening before that event – the chart rundown got pushed back to Monday, as the event itself happened that Sunday morning, and that was The Verve’s one week at number one. Looking at the dates on Wiki – I am probably wrong though.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 23 Mar 2014 #

    This doesn’t sound particularly rock-y to me – there’s little if anything of the Blues in the song. In tone and mood it’s a lot like ‘Seasons in the Sun’. The chords are a folky/busker strum-a-long and the vocals sound more like a 60s light entertainer, something the orchestration only reinforces. Having said all that it’s a compelling tune and I like the singer’s voice (in small doses) even if the lyrics are clunky.

  7. 7
    Cumbrian on 23 Mar 2014 #

    2: Appending to my earlier comment – I don’t know where I got that memory from, it’s clearly bogus having done a bit more investigation on the timeline of all of this.

  8. 8
    Chelovek na lune on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Hmm, I wonder if this is a track that divides opinions between “rock critics” (broadly defined, let’s just say to include anyone who writes professionally about popular music ), on the one hand; and the broader public, who are perhaps less committed to the notion that “rock music” (however defined) should serve a higher – or at any rate particular – purpose, on the other – and certainly less concerned to consider “family trees of rock”, or to draw out how sounds and moods evolved though influence and time.

    I fall very definitely in the latter category, and while the criticisms that Tom makes of this track do, mostly, make sense to me – when viewed from a detached/historic perspective and in terms of the subsequent evolution of a genre – shutting that context out, I don’t feel them as a listener. I think the track is maybe 30 seconds too long, but, well, this is not Oasis-style excess.

    Maybe in fact this is the sound of rock growing up, which from a generational/chronological point of view, was pretty inevitable. And the topic of this song – a bedside lament for a dying father – is really not in the same category as the whining narcissism (or delusional claims to have great political knowledge) that subsequent exponents of “bedwetting rock” were responsible for: so while I think it reasonable to posit a purely musical trajectory that comes through The Verve and carries on through Snow Patrol or Coldplay, frankly the package they (and especially the latter) received containing a neurotic excess of purposeless, self-indulgent introspection had a clear “Radiohead” postmark on…. Although, thinking of “Backstreet Symphony”: well, yes, the accusation sits there quite credibly…

    Admission One (for Cumbrian): I had been listening to at least as much Celine Dion (and: more generally, commercial pop music: largely a consequence of living in remote locations for a few years) as “rock music” round in the few years before this time.

    Admission Two: I’d previously written off Verve (sans article) as being kind of sub-Spaceman 3 louder shoegazers, heard on Gary Crowley’s early 90s GLR Sunday afternoon show, to be ranked alongside Chapterhouse in the realms of why-should-I-ever-listen-to-this-again? (Because, frankly: Slowdive did that so much better). Unfair, perhaps, not least as I really haven’t listened to any of those earlier tracks for at least 20 years. So I was pleasantly surprised at their 1997 return, with material that seemed to have a bit more substance and direction and (even) form.

    Not only is this my favourite number 1 of 1997 (and I am surprised to learn it was a number 1 at all), but I would go so far to say it is a rare case of an act getting their sole number 1 with their finest track. I think it’s rather beautiful, atmospheric and unselfish.

    “Lucky Man” and “Sonnet” were fine things, too. I recall hitchhiking from Fife to Paris in early ’98: after several hours in a van, all the from the Forth Road Bridge to Ferrybridge services in Yorkshire with some squaddies whose sole musical accompaniment, played over and over and over and over again, for the whole journey, was a freshly purchased cassingle of the Lighthouse Family’s “High” (a side: “High”, b side “High (remix)”), our next driver had “Urban Hymns” – which was a blessed relief, and proved to be far better than I had expected it to be. Melancholic for sure. Narcissistic, though, generally not.

    For me it’s a high 8 or maybe even a 9.

  9. 9
    Andrew Farrell on 23 Mar 2014 #

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDL1iFX2Vm0 ?

  10. 10
    Andrew Farrell on 23 Mar 2014 #

    (Which kind of speaks to the conversation too – on the one hand it’s a song about Liking Good Music Because It’s Good which was also intended to work as Good Music – but on the other hand if that’s all there is to it then we’d still be listening to Thunder)

  11. 11
    AMZ1981 on 23 Mar 2014 #

    #5 I’m guessing you’re referring to the fact that this record was the biggest seller for those seven days of mass hysteria – Diana died in the early hours of the preceding Sunday, this came out on Monday, the funeral took place on Saturday after all the anger about the Royal family remaining in Scotland and this entered at number one on the Sunday.

    A mournful record for a week when the nation was in a strange mood, it’s hard to say how much this boosted TDDW’s sales but I have heard it described as the real Diana record. It also won a mini chart battle against Hanson’s second single which went in at four (indie fans vs pop fans although I think Hanson were handicapped by an available album – there were words exchanged between both camps on The Vibe that week).

    I am going to have to revisit Urban Hymns at some point. I remember being bitterly disappointed when I bought it as, the three singles aside, there was only one other good song on it. Fifteen years on the fact it beat OK Computer to the Brit Award for best album is a scandal.

    Just returning to Cumbrian’s point the previous week’s chart (on the day of the death) wasn’t broadcast as Radio 1 were playing mournful music although it was published on the Sunday. It was a relatively static chart – Will Smith and Chumbawumba stayed at one and two and only Mariah Carey’s comeback single got buried.

  12. 12
    Matt DC on 23 Mar 2014 #

    The Verve definitely benefitted from the sense of mass disappointment around the Oasis album. Urban Hymns was released in my first week at university and it was HUGE, pretty much everyone felt the need to ostentatiously go and buy it. Most of them were Oasis fans and really, for all the vaguely hippyish stuff on the edges, it filled a similar niche. It was essentially an album full of drippier, more emotional versions of Oasis songs like Casts No Shadow or even Wonderwall or Don’t Look Back In Anger, big field singalongs that you could hug other dudes to. And sure enough, by the following summer, The Verve were playing the sort of outdoor mega-gigs that Oasis had made their own the previous summer.

    Radiohead also fit too – OK Computer and Urban Hymns and Spiritualized’s Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space seemed to be in the top three of virtually every end-of-year magazine list. Britpop was unmistakably dead by this point and as I hated virtually everything it had come to stand for, I welcomed this. The music press thought this was the start of a new age, big, serious, adventurous rock music, but Urban Hymns was comfortably the least sonically ambitious of the three of them. What people really wanted was to bring an older kind of Big Music back – peak U2 with all the emotional bombast with added fragility. It was an inherently conservative moment woven up in all of Ashcroft’s guff about journeying to the outer limits of whatever.

    At the same time the NME wrote an angry article about the death of Diana meaning that The Drugs Don’t Work getting to #1 didn’t receive the attention it deserved, when really they were part of same Let’s-All-Be-Sad-Together phenomenon.

    (As an aside, I always thought The Verve were a good idea for a band ruined by Ashcroft’s tuneless, droning vocals, which never got anywhere near the grandiose soulfulness they were clearly aiming for. Bittersweet Symphony is a much better record than this but it barely has a tune outside of the string hook. Always liked Nick McCabe’s guitar sounds though).

  13. 13
    mapman132 on 23 Mar 2014 #

    One of the many cases where a group that’s considered a one hit wonder in America has their only UK#1 with a song that was not that one hit. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” would eventually be a #12 hit on the Hot 100 and its famous video is still well known in the US to this day. The followup TDDW was unfortunately not a hit in the US although it did get a smidgen of airplay and video play in 1998 after BSS had run its course. I like both songs: I’d probably give BSS an 8 or 9, and 7 for TDDW. Disappointed to see Tom’s low mark, but then I’m a fan of the groups mentioned in the review (esp. Coldplay – I’m already expecting to have to defend them at a future date).

    Couple of final notes: BSS hadn’t come to US shores yet in Sept 97, so my initial reaction seeing them atop the UK chart was to confuse them with the Verve Pipe, a US band who had a #5 hit earlier that year with “The Freshman”. A little surprising the Verve wasn’t forced to become something like “Verve UK” which usually happens in these situations. My only other reaction at the time was that this would inevitably be washed away by the sales tsunami about to hit. “4 Seasons of Loneliness” by Boyz II Men held this position in the US – sneaking in a week at the top for what would surprisingly prove their final #1 hit.

  14. 14
    23 Daves on 23 Mar 2014 #

    This is so over-familiar to me now that I tend to forget the impact of it when I first heard it on the radio. I wasn’t blown away as such, but I had the sense that The Verve had mastered a certain style of songwriting which Oasis had been moving towards, but not getting completely on top of. I accept that this may only be my opinion and will be sacrilege to their fans, but the moodier tracks on “Morning Glory” (including “Wonderwall”) hint towards “The Drugs Don’t Work”, but get mired in Noel’s non-specific word gun lyrics and sound like a hungover Sunday morning rather than being about anything specific or important. The Gallaghers certainly had emotional upheaval in their lives, their family upbringing was no picnic for one thing, but even the tracks which are trying to convey depth of feeling are often peculiarly evasive, as if they’re afraid of the consequences of any honesty. “The Drugs Don’t Work”, on the other hand, is moving on the first handful of listens purely because it starkly sets the scene. It clearly comes from a very dark and troubled place. That doesn’t necessarily equal good music, of course, and there are plenty of appalling, self-indulgent personal records made by people who should have known better, but this isn’t part of the Britpop or post-Britpop (bed-wetting) strand of non-specific mood music balladry, and to me that makes a huge difference. There’s something here I can hold on to.

    #8 – I saw The Verve (or “Verve” as they were then known) live just before their first single came out, at a very small club night in London. Like you, I completely dismissed them as part of the shoe gazing scene and was deeply unimpressed. Ashcroft stood on the stage making shapes and gestures like a crazed Woodstock hippy, and the band seem to just riff, thud and thunder and create “atmospheres” behind him. It seemed monumentally dull. Me and my friends were cornered by someone outside who said he was a professional music journalist, and I remember not believing him because he seemed so damn old (in his late thirties, probably, and it seemed improbable that IPC would hire such types to dictate youth trends. Oh, I was a naive teenager). He was clearly after quotes from people along the lines of “This is the band of the future!”
    “What did you think of THAT, then?” he asked assertively, almost challenging us to say “It was shit”.
    “I just thought it was really dull,” I said, and my friends nodded in agreement.
    He walked away, saying to a group behind him loudly, largely for our benefit: “You know, I find it really SADDENING when people can’t recognise the fact that he (Richard Ashcroft) is a STAR”.

    I was always secretly pleased by The Verve’s relative lack of progress after that night, because it proved that I was right and the patronising youth-club leader beardy chap was wrong. But to be honest, even when The Verve became enormous, I never looked at Ashcroft and thought “What a shining star that man is”. For all his efforts, he always seemed like a rather Pink Floydish figure. And no, not Syd Barrett either.

  15. 15
    Tom on 23 Mar 2014 #

    #11 I think it certainly helped TDDW’s sales, but they were big enough on the back of BSS that they would have had a shot at #1 anyhow. Claiming it as ‘the real Diana record’ would be amazing indie hubris given how much the next record sold, though!

    #8 I think I was a bit unclear in the review. I’m saying that the success of this record is a stepping stone towards the style of Coldplay etc. but that the grounded subject matter is its saving grace (mostly unlike the more metaphysical sadness of those bands): the problem for me is that Ashcroft is stuck in a rock frontman mode which (for me) drags out the song and spoils its emotional momentum. (Bittersweet Symphony is a far crasser and less mature song but also I think a much better record, because it’s the apotheosis of Ashcroft’s working this style).

    i.e. on TDDW he’s written a moving song, he’s found a style that might fit it, and his own interests and instincts as a performer do him in and lead him away from that. Coldplay etc have the style and a mode of perfomance – nicked as you say from Thom Yorke mainly – that fits that style, but very rarely is their material anywhere near as potentially good as this song: in fact it’s often closer to the questing solipsism of earlier Ashcroft. Phew!

    This is one where I knew going in though that this moves me a lot less than it moves a lot of people, and that’s far more about me than it is about the song. A very good song on a similar theme to TDDW, incidentally: “Dying” by XTC.

  16. 16
    Tom on 23 Mar 2014 #

    #13 You may or may not have to defend them – one of the reasons I talked about Coldplay in the general case a bit here is that their first bunny, at least, seems aytpical of them (or at least of the stuff that made them famous).

  17. 17

    the patronising youth-club leader beardy chap was wrong

    i really really really want this to be everett true want to know who this was >:D

  18. 18
    weej on 23 Mar 2014 #

    This getting to number one surprised me even more than the Chemical Brothers or White Town. Here were the perennial no-hopers, constantly hyped, failing to get attention beyond the music press and splitting up whenever they looked like getting a sniff of success – yes, they’d made a comeback with a good, memorable single, but now we were back to the interminable maudlin ballads, even more depressing than before, and surely their moment in the sun was over again, and hold on, number one?!

    In retrospect this was my failing to “get it” and the record-buying public being ahead of me. The Verve I liked played skuzzy psych-rock, all fury and fear, dulled by a blissful narcotic haze – I got this impression from ‘This Is Music’ and another few tracks on A Northern Soul, but it set me up all wrong as this was always just a deviation from their true purpose – or rather purposes, the result of a furious pull in different directions, and Richard’s was the one that won out in the end. Urban Hymns was basically his first solo record – written without Nick McCabe and only drafting him back into the group for the recording process, it lost the vital element for me and was therefore just irritating, like drinking coffee when you thought it was tea.

    Is The Drugs Don’t Work good then? I still don’t know. There’s something in there, for sure, but all I get is how depressing it all is, and what’s the use of that? I have no desire to listen to it again, but people find it ‘powerful’ and I have to respect that, I suppose.

  19. 19
    23 Daves on 23 Mar 2014 #

    #17 I never did find out who it was, sadly – certainly not one of the contributors to NME, as I’d have recognised him if it were, and not Everett True who I’ve bumped into at gigs many times since (did he ever really approve of Ashcroft? It seems more likely to me that he’d have been a Verve naysayer). It’s most likely to have been a Melody Maker or Sounds journalist since I didn’t pay any attention to those papers at that point in my life. The only thing I can remember about him these days is that he had a receding hairline and a surprisingly tidy beard.

    A lot of the older music journos in the nineties came across like youth club leaders, anyway. Matey and chummy and trying to be down with the kids one minute, outright contemptuous the next.

  20. 20
    flahr on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Great title.

    I remember quite smugly deciding this was like a-ha or Distant Chiptune Bunny – i.e. a case where I could go “of course that wasn’t their actual #1 single you know” and follow that up with “and of course their actual #1 single was much better”. Unlike a-ha and DCB, however, I was both wrong and smug (as opposed to just smug) on that one – “Bitter Sweet Symphony” (it’d be so much better if “bittersweet” was one word, ugh) is the better record. I still like “Drugs” though (ahem) – I think it deserves its coda, and it’s a sufficiently teetering, see-sawing one that it feels just as undone as the rest of the record – there isn’t a sense of inappropriate triumphalism as there was on, say, “Belfast Child” (not that I remember “Belfast Child” at all but I seem to remember you criticising it for that in your review).

    Singles aside I didn’t really like Urban Hymns all that much – I was utterly astonished by how far up the rankings of all-time sales it is.

  21. 21

    i only said ET bcz (a) these days he rocks a titanic beard and (b) he almost certainly loathed the (latterday) verve

    sounds ceased publication in 1991: tho i guess its writers may still have been hanging about rock shows like melancholy ghosts for years after this

  22. 22
    thefatgit on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Reading the comments here, seems everybody is acutely aware of what’s coming next. TDDW occupies that space as much as Bunny In The Bunny does. Having said that, it’s pretty hard for me to regard this song as a separate entity from the events that surrounded its release. So I’m going to keep my powder dry for now. As far as this discussion is concerned, I’m in the Pro camp. I liked “A Northern Soul” a lot and “Urban Hymns”, although a competent follow-up, lacked something when I compared it to “OK Computer”, which was very much the rock album I got the most satisfaction from in 97. Ashcroft’s born-alone-die-alone fatalism was pretty tiring after a while, but that seemed to be the way most of the Brit-rock contingent were leaning. Even the more optimistic “Lucky Man” came with caveats “happiness/more or less”. Nick McCabe provided the uplifting slabs of guitar-euphoria almost like Marr to Ashcroft’s Morrissey.

  23. 23
    iconoclast on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I never got the hype about The Verve; I remember watching their triumphant homecoming at Haigh Hall on the TV and thinking it was just one maudlin dirge after another. TTDW is neither particularly maudlin nor particularly dirgey; indeed it starts out with plenty of promise that it’ll turn into something introspectively beautiful. Alas, however, it begins to drift and meander, and sputters through the fadeout at the end having failed to do much of anything. SIX.

  24. 24
    Kinitawowi on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Alan McGee was right. There was a school of thought way back when which suggested that the early 80s New Wave was an industry’s reaction to the punks, something it could cling to in the wake of something it couldn’t control; maybe borrowing a few punk ideas but ultimately sanitising them into Duran Duran.

    And so it goes; the same people would tout The Verve, Coldplay et al as the same thing in response to Britpop. BlurPulpOasis had been so fresh that TDDW can only feel plodding and stagnant by comparison; it doesn’t have the sweeping grandeur of History, the hookiness of Bittersweet Symphony, the verve (ha) of Lucky Man; it just plods along, going nowhere. I was bored halfway through the first listen and time has not healed it. 3.

    Disc 2 of Now! 38 bears investigation at this point, methinks. (Disc 1 still has a bunny.)

    Wet Wet Wet – Yesterday
    George Michael – You Have Been Loved
    The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work
    Oasis – Stand By Me
    Embrace – All You Good Good People
    Faithless – Don’t Leave
    Radiohead – Karma Police
    Moby – James Bond Theme
    PF Project featuring Ewan McGregor – Choose Life
    Robbie Williams – Lazy Days
    Ash – A Life Less Ordinary
    Texas – Blue Eyed Boy
    Meredith Brooks – Bitch
    Jon Bon Jovi – Janie, Don’t Take Your Love To Town
    Ocean Colour Scene – Better Day
    Cast – I’m So Lonely
    Conner Reeves – Earthbound
    Peter André – Lonely
    Boyz II Men – 4 Seasons Of Loneliness

    I’m So Lonely, Lonely, 4 Seasons Of Loneliness. Yes, Diana and all that, but save for a noble attempt at a breakout in the middle of the disc, these really were a dreary bunch.

  25. 25
    anto on 23 Mar 2014 #

    It’s somewhat ironic that The Verve’s brief absence from the music scene in 1995-96 was concurrent with the point where wider public taste became favourable towards them. Prior to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ they were always out of step. In 1993 they sounded three or maybe even twenty three years behind the times while ‘A Northern Soul’ was a rainy, windswept record wracked with doubt which made it seem curiously removed from all else around it in the summer of Britpop. The endorsement from Oasis unquestionably made some difference – Noel Gallagher’s reverence for Richard Ashcroft even inspiring one of his best very best songs (Cast No Shadow).
    The Verve appeared to be gone before you knew it, departing with their best single up to that point – ‘History’ a requiem for a love affair – it’s cinematic equivalent is the Michelle Williams/Ryan Gosling film ‘Blue Valentine’ – or maybe an admittance of defeat from the band themselves as there appeared to be something of the couple who can’t live with/can’t live without each other about Ashcroft and Nick McCabe.
    When they re-grouped a lot of their new tracks had been written by Ashcroft alone during that year apart. Compared to the drifting reveries of ‘A Storm In Heaven’ the singer’s personality seemed to have more of an imprint on the group’s songs by the third album. ‘Weaponised introspection’ is an interesting phrase, but in some ways The Verve’s understanding that a lust for life often goes hand in hand with an awareness of mortality and past regrets was more relatable than simply being ‘mad for it’.
    It’s true that The Verve were responsible but not to blame for a lot of dross that would follow, but I don’t hold it against them. Their music had a grace and poigniancy well beyond their imitators and it’s evident in ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ – one of the best number ones of the nineties.

  26. 26
    Doctor Casino on 23 Mar 2014 #

    This made no impact at all in the US for whatever reason – “Bittersweet Symphony” was massive, “Lucky Man” got some obligatory play for a week or two, and that was that – one-hit wonder. The length probably had something to do with it, or the fact that we had our own crop of guitar bands struggling to various degrees with how to manage Weightiness and Depth, with diminishing (commercial) returns. Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M. were all, by their standards, struggling in the market, and the kind of guitar band single that found a crossover audience tended to be lighter, brighter, usually more uptempo (“Semi-Charmed Life,” “Fly”). If they were doing something ballad-ish, it would be shorter, sing-songier and absent the string section (“Closing Time”). Crunchy mid-tempo rockers with a Thoughtful or Sensitive side also did fine (“If You Could Only See,” or Matchbox 20’s string of hits which I gather made little impact in the UK).

    It’s tempting to read this all, on both sides of the pond, as a reaction to U2 in one way or another. That’d be giving way too much weight to one act, so let the figure of U2 stand in for “the big, significant Rock Band.” If Discotheque found a certain way of doing things running aground, the question then would be: what to make of the success that U2 had previously enjoyed? Could that baton be taken up if they weren’t using it? I hear a lot of their earlier hits, especially “One,” in “The Drugs Don’t Work,” and I certainly wouldn’t be the first to find U2 in Travis and Coldplay. The American records are less caught up in regaining that particular epic sweep, but more in purging themselves of the sort of thing U2 had gotten caught up in – let’s call it loosely “techno” but also, it might be said, the Other. Compared to the early 90s “grunge” period it was a remarkably under-discussed call to order – but while the alternative rock stations continued to parade a variety of sounds and textures, the bands that made it on the pop charts were emphatically back to basics: four guys, three guitars, some feelings and some words. I don’t know if that, exactly, applies to the Verve, given that “Bittersweet Symphony” was built on sampling, but it’s worth considering what happens when the wave of a bandwagon of “experimentation” and “genre hybrids” goes rushing back out to sea. I think a lot of bands or whole sounds were sort of left adrift and exposed in the late 90s, and while it would be absurd to blame Pop I do think we’re into the period of hangover from whatever it is that that record (or its equivalents) represented.

    Oh – the Verve song. Had probably heard it once before, listened again just now, didn’t feel any impact, got bored, turned it off.

  27. 27
    Matt DC on 23 Mar 2014 #

    #20 – Genuinely surprised to see it outrank any Coldplay album, although I suppose it is the only Verve record that most people ever bother buying.

  28. 28
    Kat but logged out innit on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I remember buying Urban Hymns in the massive Sainsbury’s in Hayes, because I had a voucher and it was right there by the till. Not a good decision. I think I sold it on to my mate Karen for a quid about a year later = PROFIT

  29. 29
    Mark M on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I kind of like this song, although I probably tune out the ending that Tom doesn’t like. Verve/The Verve were never my bag, either in their sprawling original incarnation nor their hit-making later one, but this is reasonably affecting.

    Re14: Desperate searching my memory for anyone who resembled that description… drawing a blank. Doing vox pops is horrible: nobody wants to talk to you, and when they do, they tend to talk in dull approximations of media speak, which is exactly what you don’t want. My current employers tend to send out the youngest, poorest-paid women in the office – I feel terribly sorry for them. At least most of the vox pops I did were my own stupid idea.

  30. 30
    ciaran on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I agree with Tom in that a Number 1 was a certainty after the near miss of Symphony in the summer more so than the events that surrounded it. I mean would say The Verve fans from up north have much time for the royal family really.

    The Verve really gained more than most over Oasis shooting themselves in the foot and with Radiohead and Spiritualized too distant it was they who surfed the mid to late 1997 zeitgest. They were the surprise success of the year similar in a way to the Fugees a year earlier.

    Not so sure I agree with ‘4’ even though I expected a low mark. It does suit the time but over familiarity makes it a bit of a tough listen now. After I played it just now I had no desire to hear it again. I did enjoy it then so I would give it 5 down from a 7 in 97.The likes of ‘Lucky Man’ are much more enjoyable now.

    The video of Bittersweet Symphony was based on Massive Attack but looking at this one it feels like ‘Thats Entertainment’ by The Jam, right down to the black and white imagery and the likeness between Ashcroft and Weller.

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