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.



  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.

  31. 31
    James Masterton on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I love the debate over just how much of an impact Diana week had on the success of The Drugs Don’t Work.

    For the avoidance of doubt, the single was indeed released on the Monday of that week of madness, and so had the honour of being the biggest selling single in a week when virtually nothing else appeared to matter. It was manifestly going to be Number One anyway, the follow-up to Bitter Sweet Symphony and thus riding high on the coattails of that success whilst at the same time being a single with even more appeal to the casual mainstream (I hated ‘Symphony’ and still find it annoying, yet loved ‘Drugs’).

    Radio stations across the country had naturally gone into mourning mode, the airplay charts for that week amongst the most extraordinary in the history of that countdown. The presence amongst the contemporary releases of a record that was a eulogy, a paen to mourning and the means of healing from that was something of a godsend to programmers who were getting fed up of endless spins of Songbird. Hence The Verve benefited more than most acts might have done so.

    Sales figures were a bit hit and miss during this period and the figures have been revised in retrospect many times since, but it is worth noting that The Verge sold around 105,000 copies that week – the same as Will Smith had sold a week earlier in his final week at the top.

    The “suitable music” factor carried on for another week as well. The following chart had Candle at No.1, The Verve knocked down to 3 and sandwiched in between George Michael with You Have Been Loved – another song which was perfect for those searching for something to soothe aching hearts.

  32. 32
    wichitalineman on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Re 31: “The airplay charts for that week amongst the most extraordinary in the history of that countdown.” Can you remember what was on them? I think I must have avoided all radio and TV for a couple of weeks (and I’ve never heard the next no.1 in its entirety).

  33. 33
    Chelovek na lune on 23 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve never more glad to be outside the UK than I was that week! Even in Norway, and then (on the day of the funeral), and to a slightly lesser extent, Finland, Diana-mania was in full effect….

  34. 34
    Garry on 23 Mar 2014 #

    #19 Everett True-Watch – he’s living here in Brisbane now. I’m not sure why but he’s been getting to plenty of gigs and reviewing them. I can’t say I’ve seen him at gigs but this is mostly because I haven’t been to a gig in years.

    Unless you call the Wiggles a gig…

  35. 35
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I wasn’t surprised to see Lino rating this highly, because when I listened to it just now for the first time this decade, it sounded like a Glen Campbell song – certainly one that he could comfortably have covered in his heyday.

    I liked this a lot at the time, and like it now. Bought the album on the strength of this and “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, and found “Lucky Man” and especially “Sonnet” equally strong, but the rest of it seemed fillerish. Working my way through it now, “The Rolling People” has already confirmed that impression, and “Catching the Butterfly” isn’t sounding promising.

    Yet somehow I listened to the Verve fans who persuaded me that A Northern Soul was the bee’s knees, and went out and bought the thing. Probably listened to it twice, if that. I should have known better, as I had a tape somewhere of A Storm in Heaven courtesy of my indie-fan friend in the UK, and hadn’t listened to that much either.

    (So how the hell did I end up with Ashcroft’s first three solo albums in my CD collection? I remember paying full whack for the first, but the others must have been a fiver each in Fopp… certainly by the time Forth came out, I wasn’t really interested any more.)

    That the Verve are part of the bloodline of certain bands considered bloodless by all and sundry doesn’t bother me…. as I shall no doubt elaborate when we get to their bloody songs (although that won’t be for bloomin’ ages).


    (I gave up after “Catching the Butterfly” and put on Glen Campbell’s Twenty Golden Greats instead.)

  36. 36
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @35, Rory. Put the cd back on! Urban Hymns finishes strongly. From Lucky Man on everything’s good w/ closers Velvet Morning and (very Siamese Dream-y) Come On the best tracks on the record (assuming BSS is played out for you as it is for most of us).

  37. 37
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Like some other fans here, I manage to enjoy this one by tuning out most of the second half. When the first verse comes round again, it’s a sign that it’s time to stop paying attention. The live version linked to by Izzy @3 is lovely.

    My favourite Verve tune is still ‘Gravity Grave’, though. Daft and thrilling, as Tom says, and spacey in a way that Brit-rock hasn’t much* dared to be since, it still recognisably has one foot in the blissed-out camp of Loop et al. And it also reminds me of Jane’s Addiction, who were my absolute favourite band around the turn of the decade.

    (* I originally wrote “hasn’t ever dared” here, but then decided that was wrong. Foals and Alt-J are bringing spacey back, for sure, and there are doubtless more that I don’t know about.)

    Also, say what you like about The Verve and their increasingly uninteresting inheritors, at least their awkward sentimentality makes them more sympathetic individuals than Radiohead with their cheap nihilism. (This view possibly influenced by the fact that I have met Thom Yorke twice, and once he was grudgingly civil to me and once an utter cock.)

    @31 I have a theory about George Michael, but I should probably save it for the next entry.

  38. 38
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Okay, Swanstep, I’ve dumped it on the iPod and will give it another listen in full this week. It’s just so lonnnnggg… only a couple of minutes shorter than Be Here Now. Quite amazed at its 17th-highest UK seller status, per Flahr @20.

  39. 39
    pootle on 24 Mar 2014 #

    It’s ok. I’ve heard far worse rork ballads. And I’ll give them a huge pass for “BSS” and the sheer pain in the line “…but the airwaves are clear and there’s nobody singing to me now”, because I love it when people who make music reveal themselves as needing it as badly as anyone else.

  40. 40
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @rory, 38. Agree that the album’s at least 15 minutes too long (it’s actually quite a bit longer than Be Here Now if you factor in the ludicrous hidden track and the long space after ‘Come on’ that precedes it! ’90s rock excess grrr.).

  41. 41
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @pootle, 39 Courtney Love talked at the time about how she found that BSS line very affecting and motivating. ‘Hang on, Celebrity Skin is coming’ was how she thought of things as unfolding. Unfortunately CS turned out to be something less than the Rumours of the late ’90s that Courtney hoped for and thought she might have.

  42. 42
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @26 That’s a great observation about there being a U2-shaped hole in the market.

    It’s a gap that was filled with great success by Coldplay on the sensitive Rock feelings side and by Muse – in the UK, anyway – on the epic Rock theatrics side.

    As for why TDDW wasn’t a hit in America: isn’t there some squeamishness in the US about songs with “drugs” in the title? It seems to have hurt the chart prospects of Huey Lewis and, er, Talking Heads, anyway. (There must be other examples, but I can’t think of them right now.)

    Incidentally, saying Matchbox 20 made little impact in the UK is like saying Oasis never quite cracked America. I honestly don’t know a single Briton who has even heard of them. I still can’t shake the impression they were (are?) some kind of rockabilly revival band.

  43. 43
    wichitalineman on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Re 42: I had to listen to Matchbox 20 on youtube to discover what they sounded like – they meant considerably less here than Oasis did in the US, where I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) Morning Glory and Be Here Now both reached no.2. But I do like the idea of Matchbox 20 covering Rockabilly Rebel and Buzz Buzz A Diddle It.

  44. 44
    tm on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I lapped this up at the time much to my subsequent embarrassment which is probably partly why I’m so anti Coldplay and their ilk now. The Verve had the swagger of Oasis but without the punishing wall of noise or the tendency to wish AIDS on musical rivals. In 1997 they seemed to me an inevitable and welcome maturation of rock. Nowadays they seem like the sort of thing that would impress a 16 year old indie fan. I went off them when I heard the High Hall concert on Radio 1. Richard Ashcroft sang most of the set out of tune and the songs sounded lumpen and dirgy shorn of the studio polish. The pre Urban Hymns stuff just sounded like noise to me. Urban Hymns ended up in MVE along with most of my 90s albums.

    I’m with Mark M on tuning out drawn out faux soulman endings, it just fades back into noise for me. I’ll also give a little shout for Space and Time , the swaggeriest track on Urban Hymns: a better fourth single than Sonnet IMHO.

  45. 45
    jim5et on 24 Mar 2014 #

    >A song which works because it’s grounded in a relatable experience turns into another trot through the rock frontman playbook.

    Oh, this is spot on. It’s a really great song – both catchy and touching – but Ashcroft’s instinctive showboating goes a lot of the way to killing it. Like a bunnied Steets hit from 2004* and like most of elbow’s work, it’s a very specific song that’s turned into a weepalong for maudlin drunk blokes. Unlike the others, that’s probably all it deserves.

    *Is that how the bunny thing works?

  46. 46
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    That is how it works – well done :)

    #37 the other reason “Gravity Grave” works (for me anyway) is that Ashcroft’s voice on the first records is much softer, he sounds like he’s being led by the sound, which is a good effect for a psych vocalist. Live reports from the early years have him decentralising himself, climbing gantries, wandering into the audience etc. – as I said in the review, corny as fuck, but I think more effective than the rock visionary schtick he landed on when he firmed up his voice.

  47. 47
    Fivelongdays on 24 Mar 2014 #

    ‘Big Nose/You’ve got a fucking big nose…’

    Once upon a time, there was a band called Oasis. And that band released an album that sold a ridiculous amount of records. And on that album, there was one track that showed just how boring they could be.

    That track was called Cast No Shadow, and it’s soporific tune and trite lyrics were inspired by Richard ‘The Schnozz’ Ashcroft.

    There were tales of how this man was a poet, a prophet and a seer. They said he was just like William Blake, only GRITTY! and TOUGH! Because he was NORTHERN! And his music was a Swirling MASS of Psychadelic Rock!

    Alas! Cap’n Conk and his band of SOULFUL, NORTHERN troubadours -featuring, we were assured, the ROCK GOD awesomeness of NORTHERN axemeister Nick McCabe – split up. Was it because they were too sensitive, yet too rocking, and also too NORTHERN to live? Their last album ‘Eh by gum, they don’t sell Uncle Joe’s Mintballs down south’ was an unheralded masterpiece which would have, no doubt, stopped those poncey southerners like Radiohead dead in their tracks…

    But one day, El Hooterino decided to come back and make us all worship the power of his NORTHERN Rock Majesty! And he did this via a song which containted a pretty cool string sample, a rather silly video and fuck all else. It was good fun though.

    Ah, said everyone, can you not see that Oasis’ last record was a load of dreary wank? Is it not right that The Verve, who are tough, and Northern, but also dead sensitive are now the best band in Britain?

    (and everyone else said ‘Wait a moment, Radiohead have just released a corking album of experimentation and paranoia – and here’s hoping they don’t disappear up their own backsides in an orgy of pseudo-jazz bleeps and bloops, because that’d be a shame, although it’ll never happen, of course – and the Prodigy are fusing dance with rock in a way that speaks to every kid in the land, and The Bunnied Welsh band are preaching truth to the masses, and The Wildhearts new record is a genuinely experimental bag’o’noise, and there’s these Spiritualized chappies [more of whom anon]….)

    But Ol Big Nose had a secret weapon! In his years in the Blakean Wilderness (or ‘Wigan’ as it is otherwise known) he had managed to find Jason Pierce’s out of Spiritualized’s girlfriend (who was also the Keyboard player out of Spiritualized) and, using his Trademarked NORTHERN SEDUCTION SKILLS (‘Eh up, I’m Northern. D’you fanceh a Chip Butty and a shag? I’m dead sensitive y’know’) stole her. BUT! NOT only did he steal J Spaceman’s woman, he also stole his sound.

    (A serious point at this stage – I’m not prejudiced against Northerners, but I AM prejudiced against shit bands who bang on about how Northern they are in the hope that gullible music hacks will start to swoon over how tough, yet meaningful – like a Noble Savage – they are, solely from coming from somewhere like Wigan. As far as I’m concerned, The Verve are guilty of mentioning their Special Northerness at every available opportunity).

    Ashcroft now had a problem. He knew the soft southern music press could call him out on this. BUT! He had an ingenious idea. What if he took Spiritualized’s sound, but took all the invention, all the power, and all the meaning out of it? What if he replaced Jason Pierce’s lovelorn, smacked-out lyrics with mimbling platitudes? If he did that, then he would get played on the radio, then loads of people would buy his shit records, then everyone would see that he was the Greatest Poet Alive, and would bow down to him.

    So we get to this.

    Fucking hell, it’s dull. It’s whiny, it’s mopey, it’s shit. Nick McCabe – who, we were all assured, was a guitar genius – strums his acoustic broodily while Big Nose goes ‘My Lord’ in a really shit attempt to be Jason Pierce (whose sublime medicine to treat the heart and soul, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, remains the greatest album of 1997), and whinges, and moans, and bimbles on, and on, and on…

    And it came from an album that was 75 minutes of the same, an album which – as has, quite rightly, already been said – wouldn’t have sold anything had Be Here Now not been as monumentally pants as it was. An album which promised us Rock Thrills, but delivered Nesh Shite.

    (A quick aside – having guitars does not make you a rock band. If you want to be a rock band, you have to ACTUALLY rock. If Tom – and others – just realised this, we’d all be a lot happier)

    This is a terrible record, made by a terrible band, with a terrible – arrogant, boring, tedious, nasty, petty, untalented, cokedup (And with that nose, he could take an awful lot of the stuff), unoriginal, pretentious – frontman. It’s the spiritual heir to Wonderwall, all faux-sensitivity, and it’s the predecessor to the likes of Coldplay, Travis, and the entire vile, mewling, nesh anti-rock New Acoustic Movement.

    The Drugs Don’t Work, Dickie? Change your dealer. Then fuckin’ OD.


  48. 48
    Tommy Mack on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #46 – also as a lot of others have noted above, Urban Hymns smacks of an album written on an acoustic guitar and then fleshed out later by the band.

  49. 49
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Bonus Material: Richard Ashcroft’s 5 least appealing sounding solo songs (judged on title alone)

    5. This Thing Called Life
    4. C’Mon Everybody (We’re Making It Now)
    3. How Deep Is Your Man?
    2. Sweet Brother Malcolm
    1. Check The Meaning

  50. 50
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Check The Meaning and C’mon People (We’re Making It Now) are both terrible. He should have jacked it in after Song For The Lovers – a totally unoriginal Don Henley rip with the, by now, de rigeur multi-layered rock star outro vocals – but still sort of alright; probably the best thing that he’s done outside The Verve (with the possible exceptions of his collaborations with UNKLE and The Chemical Brothers).

    There was one episode post-Verve when he wandered into a youth club and asked to work with the teenagers there and then refused to leave, resulting in the police being called. Never really been mentioned again but when it happened I wondered whether, with his solo career flagging, he was going to head off the rails, suffering from depression. He’s not done anything in music as far as I can tell since 2010. He might actually be retired.

  51. 51
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #47 I sympathise with the “rock music has to rock” argument – mostly cos I agree it tends to be better when it does – but I think that descriptive ship sailed in 1965 or so. (The) Verve certainly WERE a rock band, whether post-reformation they still were is an interesting question (it seems to me there’s a kind of soul music logic in the emphasis on the frontman and his big emotions, Mad Richard as the Britpop generation’s Kevin Rowland (horrible thought)) – by the time we get to Coldplay I might just use AOR or something.

  52. 52
    Fivelongdays on 24 Mar 2014 #


    The Verve were the most Indie thing in the world – and it wasn’t even good Indie.

    Surely “Sweet Brother Malcolm” is a homage to the under-rated riffmeister Malcolm Young? It sounds like Ashcroft might have put it out as a sort-of apology for all those years of not-actually-rocking.

  53. 53
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    BTW while I have a bit more time for Spiritualized than I do The Verve (and loved LAGWAFIS at the time – I kept my sealed “prescription” CD for ages), their “oh lord” tropes are only marginally less bullshit.

  54. 54
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #42: I vaguely liked MB20’s “Push” – surely the only song ever written about battered husbands – but that was all I knew about them at this point. I had a (British, I hasten to add) girlfriend throughout much of 2003 though, and she was *obsessed* with them. Their Mad Season and More Than You Think You Are albums were absolute fixtures on car journeys.

    But then she was quite into that sort of thing anyway; see also the Goo Goo Dolls, The Calling, and eventually Foo Fighters.

  55. 55
    Will on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Re 32: I listened to Radio One during that first week of September and in my memory it’s wall to wall morose cello music, lots of Rob D’s ‘Clubbed To Death’. Nothing remotely uptempo.

  56. 56
    James BC on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Is there an argument to be made that this is simply country music? I’m sure that if Richard Ashcroft had a Nashville accent it would be categorised as such. This applies even more to Sonnet and Lucky Man.

  57. 57
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Swanstep @36, 40: I’ve had another listen to the rest now, and sort of see what you mean, but half of those later tracks still don’t do a lot for me. My abridged Urban Hymns would contain tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12 and (as token wig-out) 13, without the hidden track. That would clock in at a more respectable 42.14. Then I would erase Ashcroft’s vocals and replace him with Neil Finn.

    I’m now working my way through their back catalogue, courtesy of that three-months-of-Premium-for-99p deal at Deezer (which runs until midnight today, if anyone else is interested). “Gravity Grave” is okay, but I’m already feeling that if I want to hear ’90s psychedelia I’d rather listen to the first Dandy Warhols album.

    Wow, Ashcroft’s vocals really are bugging me. But on “The Drugs Don’t Work”, his plaintive whine makes some sense; it’s one of the hooks of the song for me. I just relistened to it to see if I found the coda annoyingly long, and with 20 seconds left on the track thought, “yeah, you could fade it now,” but then the final chord came 15 seconds later, so I can’t really say it outstays its welcome – it’s no “D’You Know What I Mean?”.

  58. 58
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    (It’s not really the *length* of the coda I dislike – it’s the same objection a few people made on the “I Believe I Can Fly” thread, about how R Kelly – not that dissimilar a performer now I think of it – drops in a couple of R&B loverman adlibs which break the focus of the song. The TDDW coda works (or rather doesn’t) in a similar way for me.)

  59. 59
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @56 Yep. Having listened to fifteen of his Twenty Golden Greats last night, all the more tuneful moments on Urban Hymns could have been Glen Campbell songs.

  60. 60
    wichitalineman on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Re 59: Glen Campbell’s Rick Rubin-ny album from a few years back included a surprisingly lovely version of Travis’s Sing. Rather like a distant bunnied Snow Patrol cover, it does make you think the songwriting isn’t the issue, it’s the wet bed indie/trad rock presentation that grates.

  61. 61
    Izzy on 24 Mar 2014 #

    47: wow, I haven’t read humour like that since I stopped buying the nme. Which was even before Urban Hymns came out – such riches I have missed these last eighteen years!

    50: Song For The Lovers is amazing, I’d be ranking it high if we got to it here. Even though he actually takes a piss in the middle of the video. And in my book ‘Don Henley rip’ is no insult, if that’s what was meant.

    47 and 53: Spiritualized are the band who actually deserve the bile spewed at The Verve. I dig their early sound, but emotionally they’re completely empty, not even a cipher of something genuinely felt. Perhaps that makes them immune from mockery?

  62. 62
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @58 Fair enough. I just realised the single of TDDW is a Radio Edit of the song, at 4.45 instead of 5.05. They start fading it from 4.30. Makes a difference.

    The single also has the original demo of the song, with just Ashcroft and his guitar. No coda.

    (This streaming stuff is great! When they have what you’re looking for. Not sure I’ll want to pay £10 a month when the time comes, though. It would be more tempting if my mobile had unlimited data, and I hadn’t chewed through my monthly allowance in a couple of hours when I was trying this out.)

  63. 63
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @60 That’s a terrific version of “Sing” (thanks again to Deezer, which has a ton of GC) – and I love circa-2000 Travis (cue Bateman cartoon jokes, which are particularly apposite in this case). Campbell sounds to have been in fine voice 30-40 years after the songs I remembered him for, which my dad used to play a lot. The rest of the covers on that album look like great choices too, so I’ll be listening to it right now… thanks, wichitalineman.

  64. 64
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @50, Tom ‘ Mad Richard as the Britpop generation’s Kevin Rowland’
    I think you might be onto something with positioning Ashcroft as a bit of an ’80s wannabe. The solo album of his I owned for a while had ’80s fretless bass bete noire Pino Palladino all over it. I remember it as working on a track called ‘New York’ but nowhere else. Verve’s propulsive but understated bass had always been one of their strong suits and I was a little baffled that Ashcroft had felt the need to change that up.

    @57, rory. Yeah, that’s about what I tend to boil Urban Hymns down to. I gather I like Ashcroft’s basic voice more than you do (or more than most people do).

    @47, fivelongdays. Awesome rant.

  65. 65
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    The idea of good covers redeeming Travis songs is intriguing, given their own most famous cover version (and their comments about it).

  66. 66
    James BC on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #60 Embrace, when they first got famous, openly said that they thought they were better songwriters than they were performers.

    It’s all because of Beatles worship. It became beyond question that bands should write their own songs, so talented songwriters had to form mediocre bands to get their material heard, culminating in the late 90s Travis/Verve/Starsailor debacle.

  67. 67
    tm on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I’d rather Richard Ashcroft’s weary sneer than the choirboy with an upset stomach vocal stylings of the bedwetter bands but that’s like saying I’d rather have a poke in the eye than a kick in the balls.

  68. 68
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Starsailor! “Alcoholic” must surely be the worst post-Verve track? Boy could that guy MEWL.

    There was a big tangent about Embrace cut from the DYKWIM entry because it was already too long, might resurface in a few entries. It would be very hard for Embrace’s assessment of their relative talents not to be true, I think.

  69. 69
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #60 I picked up Campbell’s version of U2’s All I Want Is You from that album a while back. Blame Skins. (I have a hell of a lot to blame Skins for, actually.)

  70. 70
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    61: Don Henley rip not an insult – more a fact. Listening to it again, Song For The Lovers is perhaps a little bit better than alright (Boys of Summer still trumps it, mind) but still has that coda thing that Richard Ashcroft does on BSS, TDDW and Lucky Man, which by that point was just him doing what he does, which drags it down a bit.

  71. 71
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Starsailor were the head of New Acoustic Movement or whatever scene NME were desperately trying to create; that was the point at which I stopped buying it – I was not having what they were trying to sell. I think of them as the start of landfill.

    Named after a Verve track off Storm In Heaven, I think too.

  72. 72
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    C86 is the start of landfill :D

  73. 73
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Starsailor are named after the Tim Buckley track surely? A really mind-boggling example of hand-me-down naming, given that “Starsailor” sounds like a space whale courtship dance, and Starsailor sound like, well, campfire Verve imitators.

    (My favourite Tim B LP is Happy Sad tho, which is a sort of credible ancestor of Ververy, so you can see where the idea came from)

  74. 74
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Also: WL’s “wet bed” is a better term than “bed wetter”. We don’t know for certain that the puddle is their own — certainly it better suits the sense of “the cosmos is throwing terrible things at me” that they’re just lying there in SOMEONE ELSE’s wet patch and doing nothing about it (i.e. getting up, remaking the bed and doing the laundry) (rock’n’roll!)

    Starsailor give the game away by fingering the actual villain here: viz Tim Buckley, for siring the pernicious (if hapless) Jeff, who is pretty much entirely responsible for this mode of delivery. (Or rather, his MM fanboys are…)

    xpost w/tom there

  75. 75
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Are they named after Tim Buckley? Might make more sense than what I thought. I assumed it was The Verve as they were from the same neck of the woods – I have a vague recollection that they’re from Chorley or Wigan. One of the two.

    ETA: Wiki says it’s Tim Buckley. Type of thing I should check instead of just spouting willy nilly.

    Also on Wiki – Marcello has had a couple of near misses there – 2 number 2 albums but no number 1.

  76. 76
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    There’s another earlier super-whiny MM fave just round the corner of my monday morning memory.

    All bands and groups that name themselves after someone else’s song or LP are bad. This is an iron law.

  77. 77
    lonepilgrim on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @76 The Rolling Stones?

  78. 78
    Izzy on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Mansun certainly did take their name from The Verve, and might not be The Stones but were certainly not bad.

  79. 79
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    The song isn’t called “The Rolling Stones”. The law stands.

  80. 80
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I don’t think I ever even sampled Starsailor beyond half a song to determine that I didn’t like ’em. Travis were a whole different matter, but I suspect I was more predisposed to liking their sound by liking some of the artists we discussed on the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” thread, and because Fran Healy can sing, dammit. They haven’t kept up the standard of their 1999 & 2001 albums in recent years, but I’m happy enough with those.

    Travis’s first album was released three days before Urban Hymns, and even though it has a rockier sound (with Steve Lillywhite producing) you can hear the later band in the debut, so I would dispute any suggestion that they were a Verve rip-off. (I’ll have to re-listen to A Northern Soul to be sure.) But I can buy the idea that the success of Urban Hymns paved the way for a particular sort of music to flourish, including theirs.

  81. 81
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #76 etc, Hmm, at least, the Lilac Time (severely overlooked) took their name from a Nick Drake *lyric* and survived with honour intact…

  82. 82
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #80 I agree Travis don’t quite fit into the same box as Coldplay, Keane, Starsailor (all of whom have their own idiosyncracies too).

    (They seem like the type of band who get praised for their ‘tight songwriting’, ‘well-crafted’ness etc – which this thread bears out a bit – cf Crowded House, Squeeze… )

  83. 83
    weej on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Re #71 – They say that if you can remember NAM you probably weren’t there.

  84. 84
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I challenge Lord Sukrat’s “iron law” with Radiohead (puts tin ‘at on)

  85. 85
    lonepilgrim on 24 Mar 2014 #

    mind you Radiohead are named after a Talking Heads song, so yes, the iron law stands

  86. 86
    Izzy on 24 Mar 2014 #

    mostly because Radiohead are pretty crap though

  87. 87
    iconoclast on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @85: But it’s “Radio Head”, not “Radiohead”.

  88. 88
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #


  89. 89
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2014 #

    (takes tin ‘at off again) oh, bugger!

  90. 90
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Lady Gaga is named after a Queen song and she’s… okay, the law stands.

    TV Tropes used to have a whole list of these on A Good Name For A Rock Band, before the site decided to stop being fun. It’s still viewable in the edit history. Judas Priest may have been the least sucky, but most of them are terrible (BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME).

  91. 91
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #89 Who needs a tin hat when you’ve got an Airbag?

  92. 92
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    The song is called Radio Gaga, so this doesn’t count.

    (The MM proto-whiners I am calling out were the Cowboy Junkies btw. Their decontextualised Blue Moon has a passage that exactly prefigures Jeff B’s version of Hallelujah. At some point the style fold out of the deep country falsetto, of course (and the original Elvis Blue Moon): but this is a critique that’s been bubbling under the whole thread, isn’t it? A lot of “wet bed” is basically badly sung C&W.)


  93. 93
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #90 Is the Iron Sukrat about to go head-to-head with the Painkiller?

  94. 94
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    But the song is called “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”, so Birmingham’s finest get away with it (just).

  95. 95
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    They’re still named after the song.


  96. 96
    Andrew Farrell on 24 Mar 2014 #

    The Sisters of Mercy are not better than the Leonard Cohen song.
    Deacon Blue are not, I belatedly realise, better than the Steely Dan song.
    Steely Dan are not better than a dildo mentioned in Naked Lunch.

  97. 97
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Madness are named after a Prince Buster song. Check. Mate.

  98. 98
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #


    According to this, ABC were named after The Jackson 5 song. Is this true?

    I also quite like some of Roxette and Ladytron’s respective outputs. Obviously a personal thing. Otherwise, The Law seems reasonable.

  99. 99
    lonepilgrim on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I would like a ruling on Right said Fred

  100. 100
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I was about to link to the same page as Cumbrian and ask the same question about ABC. Also, agree with Kinitawowi and Lonepilgrim.

    Other bands that strain this hypothesis (the first three are Australian, and the first two of those are legendary):

    Hunters & Collectors
    The Living End
    Rage Against the Machine

  101. 101
    weej on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @98 – ABC, Blonde Redhead, Boredoms, Ladytron, Madness, Felt, Rolling Stones, Pretty Things, These New Puritans, Motorhead… the iron rule is looking paper-thin at this point.

  102. 102
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @98, Cumbrian. Thanks for that link. Excellent Motorhead from a Hawkwind song (no hiding behind an unvoiced diacritical mark Mark!), esp. if one is allowed to elide ‘Radio Head’ and ‘Radiohead’. The Iron Law is no more.

  103. 103
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Not sure whether Big Fun were named after the Inner City song or not (it only just predates them), but if so, it’s clear proof of the rule

  104. 104
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @102 But was Mark allowing the elision and dissing Radiohead or disallowing it and preserving them?

  105. 105
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    How about bands named after comedy? Toad the Wet Sprocket, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin… erm… the Divine Comedy (*ducks*).

  106. 106
    James BC on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Squeeze are named after a Velvet Underground album, right?

  107. 107
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I admit I didn’t make this very clear, but “named after” really does mean taking the EXACT phrase. The reasoning is this: ANY little tweak of invention is enough to clear you of the charge of “utter lack of invention”. So small as the changes are, the Pretty Things and (as already noted) the Rolling Stones escape contumely here. Ditto Mötörhead, esp. since the umlauts are pretty key to Lemmy’s concept. (I am inclined to be a bastard about Radiohead, because I can’t quite bring myself to say the same about the absence of the space as an important creative evolution.)

    I am ambivalent about one-word names like Felt or Madness or Squeeze. Reference is still being asked to do more work than I can approve of, but the link is slender enough (because of the much larger presence of the word in ordinary usage) that this matters a lot less. Ditto “ABC”, obviously. The original user really doesn’t have dibs on them — they’re words, not crafted phrases — and so there isn’t such a sense of “lack of invention”.


    Surely Big Fun were named after the vast murky Miles Davis double LP?

  108. 108
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    That iron is looking more and more rusty with every post.

  109. 109
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Au contraire, it is twinkly with filigree detail and subtlety.

  110. 110
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    And bands named after books?

    Steppenwolf, The Fall, The Birthday Party… Marillion?

  111. 111
    Alan not logged in on 24 Mar 2014 #

    With ABC you can cite “prior art” as an escape clause ;-)

  112. 112
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I think you could make the case that Motörhead managed to break the Iron Law, in a deeper magic from before the dawn of time sort of way, by performing the song themselves.

    That meant they ended up being named after one of their own songs, which is always a sign of greatness, eg Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden.

  113. 113
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #


  114. 114
    Kinitawowi on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #112: Love City Groove.

  115. 115
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    One of Australia’s favourite songs; band named after a Can song. Also pretty big in Oz circa 2000 (this one reached number four); band named after a Neil Young song.

    I withdraw RATM as apparently they were named after a song written by their lead singer for a previous band. Fodder for Ed’s Corollary @112.

    This single-word exception may work with ABC or Squeeze, but Madness surely strain it. It’s not as if they hid the reference.

  116. 116
    punctum on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #76: To be fair, Ascension were pretty poor (as evidenced by the fact that I am one of about five people on the planet, if not the universe, who remembers them. Other than people who were in them, obviously).

  117. 117
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2014 #

    In another universe Russ Abbott actually did do Joy Divison’s “Atmosphere” and named himself after it.

    Ed @112: Brand Nubians and a Daft Punk side-project called Together.

  118. 118
    Rory on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #107 The absence of the space is always an important creative evolution. Nevermind. Whatevershebringswesing. Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

  119. 119
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2014 #

    heh ok, point well made.

    I really never liked that they were called “Ascension”: it seemed unusually pious and crawly for Stefan. They shd have been called Dumpy’s Rusty Guts.

  120. 120
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Of course, The Verve were named after a record label. Does that count?

  121. 121
    wichitalineman on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Re 75: Tim Buckley’s legend seems to have dimmed dramatically in recent years but not so long ago his name was dropped as regularly as Nick Drake’s. Clearly this isn’t Tim’s fault as he died in 1975, so how can this have happened? Blame has to lie with Starsailor (least appropriately named band in history? And, yes, they were from Chorley) and young Jeff, who seems to have stolen his dad’s thunder by dying in more tragic/romantic circumstances.

    Re 110: Supertramp. I’ve never read it.

    Are Felt named after a song?

  122. 122
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I think it was always more hope than expectation that Tim B would go from cult to canon as successfully as Drake (or as Jeff) – poorly served by labels, spottily available, far from immediately accessible when you did track it down… it did strike me as weird, though, that many of the alt-rock fans who loved Jeff B seemed completely incurious about his Dad, especially as he’s such an obvious next step once you’ve finished with Jeff B’s limited catalogue.

  123. 123
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Another iron law: there are no good pop performers whose parents are also pop performers.

    So to like Jeff Buckley, you have to ignore Tim’s existence.

  124. 124

    The wikipedia list includes Felt, but it may have been tampered with by naughty people!

  125. 125
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    123: Hmm. Nancy Sinatra got the first 10 on Popular, so I’m not sure how far that Iron Law is going to fly.

  126. 126
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2014 #

    #123 Nancy Sinatra. Forget “Something Stupid”. Remember “Some Velvet Morning”.

  127. 127
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Ah, but “Three Coins In A Fountain” got (from memory) 5 or so. So Popular, at least, obeys the law.

  128. 128
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    And Strangers In The Night – a miserly 5 that one, in my opinion.

  129. 129
    Ed on 24 Mar 2014 #

    @125, @126 OK: I am inclined to concede on Nancy Sinatra. My iron needs some work. Maybe it’s just rock where parentage is an infallible marker for lack of talent. Oh, and reggae.

    There is definitely something about the spirit of youth and independence integral to most pop that is absolutely inimical to the sense of filial duty inherent in going into the family business. Pop and parents just don’t go together.

    Re the discussion about Mum songs on the thread for the Spice Girls’ ‘Mama’, how many good Dad songs are there? Is TDDW the only one we’ll encounter here?

  130. 130
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    129: Minor example in the rock/soul sphere (as neither are particularly famous) but Patterson Hood from Drive-By Truckers is the son of David Hood, who played bass in the Muscle Shoals house band.

    As with any of these, whether one thinks that either of these guys was/is any good is up to that individual but I would say that Patterson Hood has produced some good stuff and the Muscle Shoals group played on some scorching tracks.

    And re: good songs about Dads, a quick answer from the top of my head is it depends on what you think of Bruce Springsteen (Independence Day and Adam Raised A Cain being the two most at the forefront of my thinking).

  131. 131
    Cumbrian on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Re: Further on Dad songs. Papa Was A Rolling Stone was on George Michael’s Five Live EP. And Papa Don’t Preach got a 9 from Tom.

    Seems like most of the songs I can think of about Dads are about how rubbish they are though. :(

    Although there is Son of my Father by Chicory Tip, which is less about Dad being rubbish and more about being forced to be like him. Don’t know whether this is better to be honest…

  132. 132
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Erm, “My Old Man’s a Dustman”?

    Maybe if Julian Lennon had released a cover of that he might be regarded more fondly; even, respected.

  133. 133
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Natalie Cole, though: occasionally (“Jump Start”, at least) she was great.

    Also: Sam Brown: AND KIM WILDE.

  134. 134

    that name we are all tiptwerking round: MILEY

  135. 135
    punctum on 24 Mar 2014 #

    tbf Ed in his original post said “there are no good pop performers whose parents are also pop performers,” which implies that both parents had to be pop performers rather than just one. Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, for instance.

  136. 136
    wichitalineman on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Rufus and Martha Wainwright and their (slightly less?) famous parents.

    Harry Nilsson’s 1941 is a great “bad dad” song. As for “nice dad” songs – Cats In The Cradle and The Living Years are pretty horrible. I’ll try and think of a good one.

  137. 137
    punctum on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Ha! Canada always comes through.

  138. 138
    flahr on 24 Mar 2014 #

    SHAKESPEARS SISTER (though I guess that ship has sailed)

    More to the point: OI TOM @ #68 (half of) DRAWN FROM MEMORY WAS (quite) GOOD

  139. 139
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I just listened to “Dance With My Father”. Why on earth did I do that? Will I ever learn??

  140. 140
    hardtogethits on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Going way, way back to #31 and #32, the Airplay charts for that week were indeed uniquely turbulent. It may be helpful to note that the Airplay chart, taking into account BBC and commercial radio, is intended to reflect the songs which are ‘most heard’, rather than ‘most played’. It by and large has the feel of a late 70s/early 80s singles chart. Records rise up the chart in stages, week by week, and then fall back down. That said, it’s slightly more common for records to hang around and make small climbs back up the charts than it was in those sales charts.

    In the week beginning 31 August, everyone stopped playing Tubthumping. Having built ‘support’ ‘at’ ‘radio’, climbing 23-14-5-2, the record held at 2 in the airplay chart to 30 August. It then fell to 84 the next week.

    Major stations started playing ‘You Have Been Loved’ by George Michael. It entered the airplay chart at no.2 – the highest entry since the means of calculating the chart had been established.

    After 3 months on the chart, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ leapt back up the chart, from 7 to 1, completing a run 41-15-12-7-2-3-3-3-3-3-7-5-7-1.

    ‘Men In Black’ fell from 1 to 19.
    ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ by Notorious BIG fell from no.10 to out of the Top 100.
    Upbeat records such as ‘All I Wanna Do’ (Dannii), ‘Free’ (Ultra Nate), ‘I Wanna Be The Only One’, ‘Freed From Desire’ and even ‘Bitch’ by Meredith Brooks all took sudden dives.

    On the other hand, Shola Ama, Mary J Blige, M People, Mariah Carey and Conner Reeves and, yes, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ became very widely heard.

    The Airplay Top 100 showed sudden renewed support for (and just reading the first few may convince you that your call is important to us and we will be with you as soon as possible): You Might Need Somebody; Lifted; Kiss From A Rose; Seven Seconds; Search For The Hero; If You Ever; I Believe I Can Fly; You Do Something To Me; The Universal; Isn’t It A Wonder; Nobody Knows; Don’t Look Back In Anger; Don’t Dream It’s Over; I’ll Stand By You.

    An old Elton John track appeared at no.34 in the chart.

    The week after that, there was the first instance of a new entry at no.1 on the Airplay Charts under the then-current compilation methods.

    The Drugs Don’t Work rose to no.2.

    George Michael’s ‘You Have Been Loved’ fell from 2 to 25.

    Hope this helps, assuming people really wanted to know.

  141. 141
    wichitalineman on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Thanks HTGH, that is fascinating. So it was soma-pop rather than cello-led orchestral things.

    Denim’s Summer Smash, a Radio 1 Breakfast Show single of the week, was also pulled from release completely.

  142. 142
    swanstep on 25 Mar 2014 #

    @rory, 115. I hadn’t grasped this until now, but I think we can gather that like Chisel, Paul Kelly, Dave Dobbyn and a few others, and notwithstanding their centrality to both indie and pub culture at different times down under (quite a feat! that sort of crossover almost never happens) let alone their current national/regional treasure status, no one’s heard of Hunters and Collectors outside of Australasia. I think Hunnas’ problem is that they’ve always struggled to capture the savagery of their live performances in the studio, and I recommend their original 1985 live album, The Way To Go Out as a good starting point for that reason.

  143. 143
    Mark M on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Re 142: Well, I’ve heard OF Hunters & Collectors, but I’ve never heard anything BY them. Despite TV shows and the once sizeable and still significant importation of bright young Australians to the UK, I’m convinced that the cultural gap is larger than either side realises. The English boyfriend of an Aussie friend recently challenged me to name three Australian bands – I could do it, but my bid (The Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens, The Hoodoo Gurus) made her laugh. I’m guessing not many Australians would pick those three. Likewise, she’s still perplexed after six years here about the way bands like Powderfinger have absolutely no impact here. Indeed, if you’re of an ’80s indie inclination, New Zealand is a much bigger deal than Australia.

  144. 144
    Patrick Mexico on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #47 – an incendiary classic. Bravo, so funny. The Verve mostly drive me round the twist. I usually relish bands hyping up their regional identity but they took all the irreverence, fun and wit of Madchester and melted it down into a bland election leaflet for Vernon Kay.

    I was expecting to be extremely annoyed, if not appalled, by this and Ashcroft’s Richard III-with-man-flu-vibes. But it’s a unpretentious and heartfelt record with a quite lovely string backing (yes, fresh farmhouse jam in a rather thin bowl of porridge, but it was the right kind of #1 for that week. Given the public hypocrisy and confusion over Diana’s death, quiet, gentle reflection was better than anything overbearingly pompous or another “I’ll be Missing You” which grabbed people by the throat asking them to cry, or God forbid, some tasteless anti

    The problem is, the dreaded Travis/Keane/Snow Patrol axis would carry on this quiet, gentle reflection long beyond any meaningful context. The tossers.

  145. 145
    Patrick Mexico on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #47 – an incendiary classic. Bravo, so funny. The Verve mostly drive me round the twist. I usually relish bands hyping up their regional identity but they took all the irreverence, fun and wit of Madchester and the Smiths and melted it down into a bland election leaflet for Vernon Kay.

    I was expecting to be extremely annoyed, if not appalled, by this and Ashcroft’s Richard III-with-man-flu-vibes. But it’s a unpretentious and heartfelt record with a quite lovely string backing (yes, fresh farmhouse jam in a rather thin bowl of porridge, but it was the right kind of #1 for that week. Given the public hypocrisy and confusion over Diana’s death, quiet, gentle reflection was better than anything overbearingly pompous or another “I’ll be Missing You” which grabbed people by the throat asking them to cry, or God forbid, some tasteless anti

    The problem is, the dreaded Travis/Keane/Snow Patrol axis would carry on this quiet, gentle reflection long beyond any meaningful context. The tossers.

  146. 146
    weej on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Wichita @141 – I’m not sure what it says about me but I was probably more affected by the death of Denim’s career than the death of you-know-who.

    Patrick @145 I’m not in any way a fan of Travis, but I don’t think they deserve to be included in this lineage. They were just a deeply average rock group who, in the face of seemingly no competition whatsoever, somehow became the biggest group in the UK for a year or two, then disappeared back where they came from when the next actual thing came along.

  147. 147
    swanstep on 25 Mar 2014 #

    @143, Mark M. Fair enough, and in this crowd I’m guessing a few people will have heard a bit of H&C (they were definitely in the mix with the Birthday Party at the beginning) or even own their Human Frailty album, but it was their broader ‘not really being on anyone’s radar’ (i.e., when it came time to find perfect counterexamples to the Iron Law) that I was noting. Not that there’s anything wrong or even especially surprising about only some sounds translating world-wide. And, let’s face it, there’s ultimately some pleasure in a globalized/everywhere’s-interchangeable kind-of world in keeping a few top-class acts ‘just for the locals’ that only they really get. Powderfinger are a bit of a special case; they never really cracked NZ, let alone the rest of the world (just a little safe and generic I suppose, though they’re no Matchbox 20!).

  148. 148
    Martin F. on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Ah, Hunters & Collectors! A certain sector of the British population has undoubtedly heard a song of theirs, even if they don’t know it: “Throw Your Arms Around Me” plays over Shane’s death scene in Home & Away, back when the show was still getting some kind of viewing figures over here. (The episode continues with the double-whammy of Archie Roach’s “There Is A Garden” over the obligatory “tragic news spreads around town, shocked faces ensue” montage.)

  149. 149
    Auntie Beryl on 25 Mar 2014 #

    I regained consciousness after a stag night in my old university town that Sunday to the news that Princess Diana had died. Big news, but I had the mother of all hangovers to deal with; I was happy I’d taken the full week off in between the stag and wedding to explore the Lake District and generally potter about.

    This turned out to be quite a blessing. I suspect that if I’d been at work in the shop that week I’d have struggled to remain polite in the face of people faux grieving for somebody they’d never met. (I’d lost my father a few months previously and was still working my way through my own feelings on that; grief tourism was not something I was comfortable with).

    That week was spent driving around to various locations, often with Radio 1 on. The tracks I recall from the Monday / Tuesday, the soma-pop as WL accurately describes it:

    Aloof “One Night Stand” (instrumental)
    Shares Of Paradise

    From Wednesday the DJs were allowed to open up more. Big mistake. Jo Whiley prattled on about conversations with her daughter India. Nicky Campbell was as you’d expect. At this point, tracks like TDDW, Finley Quaye’s Even After All and U2’s Please started to move in, along with DJ picks like Squeeze’s Some Fantastic Place.

    The wedding went ahead, clashing directly with another ceremony down in London. Not one invitee cancelled.

  150. 150
    Mark M on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Re66/68 etc etc: I interviewed both Travis and Embrace early in their careers for The Face. I think this may have been a degree of mischief-making by the front section editor, who knew how little I cared for this kind of music and (probably) that I thought it had no place in the magazine. Travis at that point were more vaguely laddish late-Britpop than wet bed types – they were plugging the dubious U16 Girls. In line with that, they did their best to be amusing in the interview – asking what was in my notebook and happily answering the questions I’d asked Luke Haines (so if anyone wants to know what kind of terrorist act Fran Healy would commit given the chance…)
    Embrace on the other hand, unlike the comparatively modest quote above, tediously insisted there was no point in them making an album unless it was as good as Pet Sounds. This was depressing on various levels: a) it was a huge cliché by that point, b) it was ridiculous and c) how wearying that a band that young should be so hung up on the canon. Obviously, I expected no better having heard their dreary music. What I remember most about the trip up to meet them had nothing to do with the band, and everything to do with how fast food was changing in this country – you could get mozzarella and tomato on ciabatta in Huddersfield, quite unthinkable when I had left Yorkshire five years earlier.

  151. 151
    Mark M on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Re147: I think it’s very easy to overplay how globalised culture has become, and underplay the persistence of local tastes. For instance, unlike 30 years ago, there are no prime time imports on the two most-watched TV channels in the UK. Admittedly, you could watch 24-hour US TV on other channels – but that’s deceptive: most people don’t (In fact, it’s a weird sign of the times that the Murdoch empire’s transparent bid for the love of chattering classes is called Sky Atlantic and mostly has American programmes). Nor are there neat across the board rules – as I probably mentioned in the Love Is All Around thread, while most Brits seem to see other Brits on TV, that flips entirely when it comes to cinema.

  152. 152
    tm on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Re 150: And how unfortunate that Danny MacNamara should choose to compare himself to the Beach Boys, a band remembered by most for vocal talent!

  153. 153
    Ed on 25 Mar 2014 #

    @147 So do Hunters & Collectors sound like late-period Can? And do Powderfinger sound like Neil Young?

    I guess that rule doesn’t always work, though. ‘Radio Head’ is about the most cheerful and perky song Talking Heads ever recorded. If Radiohead had called themselves The Overload, that would have been more appropriate. And IIRC, Big Fun were about as close to Inner City as they were to electric Miles Davis.

  154. 154
    iconoclast on 25 Mar 2014 #

    @150: Is there a definitive statement of “the canon” somewhere?

  155. 156
    Ed on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Other canons are also available:



    ‘Urban Hymns’ at #16 for Q in 2006, #128 for the NME in 2013.

  156. 157

    ^^^definitively definitive

  157. 158
    Rory on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #142, 143, 147, 153: Hunters & Collectors did have a strong 1970s art-rock sound in their early years, but mutated in the 1980s into more mainstream Australian pub rock. They were big locally, but not at the very top: the mid-80s ranking of “big Australian bands”, I would have said, would have gone something like Cold Chisel/Jimmy Barnes, AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil, Icehouse, Crowded House, the Angels, Hunters & Collectors, Divinyls, the Church, the Hoodoo Gurus, in roughly that order. (Men at Work, in case you’re wondering, had pretty much shot their bolt by this stage.) The Birthday Party and Go-Betweens were very much the arty fringe – where INXS and Hunters & Collectors would have been a few years earlier, and indeed where the Church and the Gurus still somewhat were. I’m not surprised that they’re the bands remembered by a UK music fan today, but what’s interesting is that 20 years ago there are other names from that list that a Brit or American could easily have named: INXS had their biggest US hits in the late 1980s and biggest UK hits in the early 1990s (oddly, not the same hits), Crowded House likewise, Midnight Oil had some US success in the late 1980s (not here, I expect), Divinyls had some international hits in the early 1990s, and the Church had one big international hit with “Under the Milky Way Tonight”. Oh, and John Farnham had his big comeback around that time too, with an international hit in “You’re the Voice”.

    As for Powderfinger, they did indeed have some echoes of Neil Young in his Rust Never Sleeps guise, which is the album with the track of that name, but they also had elements of Australian pub rock and 1990s grunge/alt-rock, neither of which would have meant a lot to a UK audience, so I’m not at all surprised that they’re unknown here. I was never a huge fan, although I have bits and pieces of theirs in my iTunes library; their biggest hits were pretty anthemic. (I never got into H&C, either, and don’t think I’ve got anything by them, except indirectly in the form of Crowded House’s live recordings of “Throw Your Arms Around Me”.)

    Another big Australian band – tremendously important for understanding Australian rock of the 1990s and 2000s – is You Am I, and I’ll bet none of youse lot know ’em, Antipodeans excepted.

  158. 159
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Mar 2014 #

    A Questionable Consequence of the globalization of tastes and Australia, just announced

    (unless it is the excuse for a Hummingbirds reunion)

  159. 160
    Ed on 25 Mar 2014 #

    @158 Many of those featured in the Guardian’s nice series on Australian anthems:


  160. 161
    Mark M on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Re: 158 – Now You Am I, I’ve actually heard some of their songs – some (British) friends of mine are big fans. And Midnight Oil got to No6 here. Whereas Cold Chisel? Absolutely none the wiser…

  161. 162
    Rory on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Mark M @161 – the entry at Ed’s Guardian link on “Khe Sanh” is worth a read, and includes a YouTube video. But for the full-on Barnesy wail, try “You Got Nothing I Want.

    Genuinely impressed that you know You Am I!

  162. 163
    Conrad on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Oh Five Long Days you’ve brought me out of Popular retirement with your post at 47. Marvellous. The Verve nailed. If only the drugs had worked, Richard

  163. 164
    Tommy Mack on 25 Mar 2014 #

    A slightly more sympathetic view of TDDW’s coda: as a standard modern response to grief: where people might once have said ‘well, I guess it’s just God’s will’, now we’re more likely to lean on vaguely hippyish ‘all part of life’s journey/the greatest adventure of all’ tropes to deal with our loss, hence Richard’s retreat into the comfort blanket of his Cosmic Traveller Rock Shaman persona after his unguarded expression of grief.

    Still the worst part of the record, mind and only marginally less unsatifying than Oasis’ ‘let it all descend into a wall of noise’ approach as a lazy way to end a record.

  164. 165
    Rory on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #144: “The problem is, the dreaded Travis/Keane/Snow Patrol axis would carry on this quiet, gentle reflection long beyond any meaningful context.”

    I’m sure we’ll have this debate many times between here and 2008 (when the one band you haven’t mentioned will finally appear here), but seeing that we’ve started discussing Dad Rock or whatever it’s being called now (“bedwetter music”? For God’s sake, McGee): until 2008, we won’t meet any of these bands in Popular, and none of the three in this “dreaded” axis at any point, unless all of them start lifting their game considerably; yet from 1999 onwards, Punctum will encounter them regularly at TPL. This was the post-Napster decade, when it seemed that the main people buying CDs were Fifty Quid Men like… me. I was in my 30s, had disposable income but no kids, and would go into Fopp or Avalanche every week and buy a few more albums. It does seem that the tastes of Gen X buyers were disproportionately influential in the 2000s album charts, if not the singles charts. Which brings me to “meaningful”.

    True, The Man Who may not have been meaningful to a teenager in 1999/2000, and doesn’t really speak to its millennial moment. But to a then-32-year-old me, who was travelling the world, moving cities, going from short-term contract to short-term contract, “Driftwood” was about as meaningful as it got – to the point where I can’t really listen to it now. It was perfect music for that particular moment in my life; that, and the quiet, gentle reflection of XTRMNTR.

    Throughout the 2000s, I was often drawn to that more melodic, anthemic, sometimes (but not always) quiet and reflective brand of rock… and to lots of other kinds of music. Two of my bands of the decade were the Chemical Brothers and Muse, who I suppose could cause bedwetting, although not in the way Alan McGee meant. I was still up for experimentation and loud noises.

    But at least one kind of music was falling fast in my affections at this point, not that it had ever been high in them: the aimless rock jam, psychedelic or otherwise. Which is why I reckon Be Here Now and Urban Hymns both could have lost half an hour each. It’s why, when I worked my way backwards through the Verve’s catalogue yesterday, I found less and less to like, to the point where I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to A Storm in Heaven for the last time. It reminds me of my attempt as a teenager to listen to side six of All Things Must Pass. Thanks for the pepperoni, guys, but after the fifteenth slice, gentle reflections on death come as blessed relief.

  165. 166
    Tom on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Important text here (not meant as a diss on Rory!) – Nick Hornby’s review of Kid A!

  166. 167
    Rory on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #166 I hadn’t read that before, but Hornby’s conclusions certainly wouldn’t have been mine. I loved Kid A in 2000. Still do.

  167. 168
    Cumbrian on 25 Mar 2014 #

    The most dated part of that Hornby review is probably the bit where he complains about Radiohead having a go at Tony Blair on the grounds that a band who took a year to record a song would have made a hash of dealing with Kosovo or the NI peace process. Looked on now though, I’d take that sort of introspection over the rush to judgement that resulted in our “adventures” in Iraq, Nick, you daft beggar.

  168. 169
    Rory on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #168 Indeed. And my best guess for the song they spent a year recording but didn’t include on Kid A is “The Pyramid Song” (see 9/12/99 entry here), so aha ha ha ha ha. (By which I mean, Pyramid Song >>>>>>>>>> Iraq War.)

    I take Tom’s point about the relevance here of Hornby’s comments about competing demands interfering with one’s patience for “challenging” music. But I don’t really buy Hornby’s argument.

  169. 170
    James BC on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Someone should re-record Urban Hymns, except that every song has a TV Burp ending after two and a half minutes.

  170. 171
    Tom on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #167 Yeah, it’s more that Hornby’s disappointment with Kid A was framed with a sort of dark cousin of the argument you’re using. You’re simply bearing witness to your changing tastes and to the appeal of a particular kind of thoughtful ‘grown-up’ rock at a particular age – Hornby takes that impulse and turns it into a moral imperative: Radiohead were actively wrong to get weird because, let’s face it, that’s not what their audience has time for any more.

    (This is the question lurking behind the intro to this review – what is rock (or any music) FOR? What does it do well? It is important that this stuff sold more on album than on single. If you look at TPL, four out of the last five LPs Marcello has written about had #1 singles on them – there are times when there’s a link between the album and single charts, but sometimes this link snaps, and the next five or so Popular years feel to me like a time when the two charts are targeting very different groups of people.)

  171. 172
    Cumbrian on 25 Mar 2014 #

    I think what rock music does well, at least on Popular, is comments threads running over 150+ comments wondering what’s wrong with rock music (or what was wrong with it in as regards bands who got #1s in the late 90s at the very least).

  172. 173
    tm on 25 Mar 2014 #

    I always hated that argument of Hornby’s. Not least because I had very little patience for the experimental as a youth and my tastes have expanded considerably since then.

  173. 174
    tm on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Several people have mentioned Urban Hymns benefitting from the disappointment around Be Here Now but what about OK Computer. Had it not been for the critical collapse of dad rock would OkC have been hailed as the groundbreaking rock rebirth that it was?

  174. 175
    Tom on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #172 ha! it gets the commenters going for sure.

    #174 OKC came out in May, didn’t it – so before any critical collapse, and it was praised to the skies then.

  175. 176
    tm on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Oh, bang goes that theory then.

  176. 177
    Rory on 25 Mar 2014 #

    If it was an age thing in my case, it was much more a “these are your transient circumstances at this age” thing, rather than a rule forever after. My own tastes around that point were also influenced by moving into a flat with a cranky elderly neighbour who complained about loud music, which prompted me to explore quieter stuff more than I had before. But it didn’t stop me from listening to whatever I liked on headphones during my daily commute, and I still listen to all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff that way. Nowadays I listen to hardly anything on my home stereo (unless it’s kid friendly), so almost everything goes through headphones on my journeys to and from work. The quiet stuff can’t cut through traffic noises very well, so I’m trending louder again. Also weirder, poppier, all sorts. Hornby: denied.

  177. 178
    flahr on 25 Mar 2014 #

    #165 – lol at the suggestion that teenagers don’t listen to Travis/Embrace/Coldplay etc

    just because they’re young doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to be boring too, daddy-o

  178. 179
    Ed on 26 Mar 2014 #

    So what do middle-aged people listen to?

    Here you go: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-21995177

  179. 180
    Ed on 26 Mar 2014 #

    Although actually that seems like some kind of weird constrained poll, where people picked their favourite from the 100 most-played on R2.

    Here’s the full list, FWIW: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/vote/top-albums/

  180. 181
    Ed on 26 Mar 2014 #

    @172, @175 Data project: most-commented Popular threads, by genre.

  181. 182
    flahr on 26 Mar 2014 #

    #179: Pet Shop Boys: The DadRock Titans Tour

  182. 183
    Izzy on 26 Mar 2014 #

    180: is that top 100 ordered by votes or by skin tone?

  183. 184
    Rory on 26 Mar 2014 #

    #178 I didn’t mean to suggest that. I was talking about a specific album from 14 years ago, and juxtaposing my then-mindset to any hypothetical teenagers who dismissed it at the time (imagining Patrick M. as one of them, although I’m not sure how old he was in 2000). I wouldn’t extend that to some sort of Iron Law that nobody aged 13-19 ever bought anything released by any of these bands. But it’s fair to suggest that over-30s buyers had a disproportionate influence on their chart impact in the 2000s.

    Plenty of teenagers liked Brothers in Arms in 1985, too, but they weren’t the ones making it the first album to sell a million copies on CD. (That album spent thirty-four weeks at number one in Australia that year. There weren’t enough teenagers in the country to make that happen.)

  184. 185
    Tom on 26 Mar 2014 #

    #180, 182 Blimey, I really should have finished that 33 1/3 pitch for Actually.

  185. 186
    Cumbrian on 26 Mar 2014 #

    I hope everyone who derides this record (and Radiohead and the rest) as miserable dreck is looking forward to the Chris Martin break up album.

  186. 187
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 26 Mar 2014 #

    If it features songs about Ouspensky and dragonflies with three-foot wingspans and “exoskeletons of anger”, then I for one am game!

    (i quite like coldplay tho: i shd write a challopsy essay explaining why no doubt)

  187. 188
    thefatgit on 26 Mar 2014 #

    I sympathise with Chris Martin as a previously married man, but then I don’t because my life is nothing like his. “Conscious Uncoupling” sounds like The Great Unwritten Phil Collins Album.

  188. 189
    Cumbrian on 26 Mar 2014 #

    If there is a pot of paint displayed on his piano in the next Coldplay video, we will all know what is going on.

  189. 190
    Izzy on 26 Mar 2014 #

    On a relistening Urban Hymns fully deserved its success imo. It is overlong, which afflicts nearly every track, but otherwise it’s a neat halfway point between their Floydy early years and the trad songsmithery I assume they headed into.

    It pulls off the trick of catching pretty much the best of both – the meandering ones are pulled into line by the whole set having more of a purpose than the early records, and the song ones hit success in a way that only On Your On from A Northern Soul had really managed hitherto.

    It’s the kind of record that makes a fitting last gasp, really – poised between exhausting the original seam and heading into territory that doesn’t really suit, and yet both approaches work.

  190. 191
    Mark G on 27 Mar 2014 #

    So many bits swiped off Aphrodite’s Child “666” I was surprised..

    “Rolling People” has lots of “The Four horsemen”, and even the title is there someplace..

  191. 192

    Irene Papas > Demis Roussos >>> Mad Richard

  192. 193
    Tommy Mack on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Flahr @ 178 – Teenagers liking boring bands. Guilty as charged: around this time, I quite liked Travis, Embrace and, ye gods, Hurricane #1. I took Fran Healy’s view that they’re just ‘nice, good songs’ and I enjoyed Embrace’s lumpen reach for the profound. By 1999, Coldplay’s emergence and Travis’ monster, maudlin bunnied hit, I’d gone right off it, expanding my tastes further and realising that even ‘nice, good songs’ don’t have to be so dreary and one dimensional.

    I’ll save my anti-Coldplay bile for their official appearence and try to make some rational sense of the demented, irrational antipathy I’ve often felt towards them. I actually feel quite sad for Chris and Gwyneth: if the boringest couple in showbiz can’t be stable and contented, what hope is there?

  193. 194
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Travis have no bunnied hits! (I hope)

  194. 195
    fivelongdays on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I had absolutely no idea that Travis had a number one. That might be worth a rant.

    In an aside – Candle In The Wind seems like a good time to bury such admissions – a big part of my loathing for this song has something to do with my abiding love for Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. That album saved 15-year-old me’s life – and Jason Pierce and I had (or so I thought) something in common. You see, we were both haunted by women called Kate (Radley left him for Ashcroft, Kate Drinkwater wouldn’t touch me with a bargepole), which brought DEEP MEANINGFULNESS to what was basically my ur-pointlessinfatuation. It was a matter of principle that I hated Ashcroft. Luckily, records like this made it really rather easy. Thought it best to do some kind of full disclosure…

  195. 196
    fivelongdays on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Phew! Travis didn’t top the charts. All I can really say about Travis is they were so sodding bland, and dull they should have been the sort of act who end up with the odd top 40 hit, rather than the Biggest Band In Britain. And it all started when the Beeb creamed their pants when it the only rain at Glastonbury 99 happened when they were playing Why Does It Always Rain On Me – I, along with everyone I’ve ever met who was there, we’re watching the (vastly superior) Ash on the main stage.

  196. 197
    Tommy Mack on 28 Mar 2014 #

    ’99 was a dreadful year for indie. I’m as relieved Travis didn’t top the charts as I was disappointed that Supergrass didn’t. Which is to say, not very much since it was a long time ago and probably doesn’t count for much but still…

    WDIAROM (much better acronym than a song) seemed to be everywhere for months, I’m amazed it wasn’t a number one. It was such a distillation of everything you were meant to hate as a teenager that you actually felt quite embarassed for hating it. But not embarassed enough to like or even tolerate it. I wore The Face’s I Hate Travis badge a lot. People told me I looked like Fran Healy a lot that year.

  197. 198
    tm on 29 Mar 2014 #

    A few thoughts before we all move on…

    FiveLongDays, while you’re right to mock Richard Ashcroft’s pomposity and humourlessness, the northern regional pride only seems like a positive thing to me (obvious bias on my part here!). Post Thatcher, our industry was gone but we still had the best bands and the best footie in the world (or so it seemed). That attitude’s gone now and you might say for the better but go out in Manchester and it’s like a small, shit version of London: beered up out of towners in the centre, clueless trend-hopping pouseurs in the Northern Quarter with no sense of regional identity.

    On sampling: I heard a story from the Verve’s camp that The Stones’ people rubber stamped the string sample for BSS then on the eve of release said ‘ give us 100% or we’ll change our minds’. Given the ticket prices on the last Stones tour, I could well believe that.

    On sampling 2: Here’s my gut feeling on sampling and it seems wrong but I can’t quite resolve it: let’s say KRS One starts sampling beats by James Brown, he makes some great new music out of them and so creates an experience of maybe equal value to that which the original music provided to its listeners. However, he’s also added value to James Brown who now, not only made a great record back in the day but also unwittingly provided raw materials for a new generation: the sampler may create something of worth in the present but the samplee already did that and by the act of sampling, sampler has conveyed upon samplee an additional secondary layer of worth which the sampler may never attain. Obviously this is less relevant to BSS/FatBoy Slim type sampling where the samples used are obscure and the recontextualisation more distant but still the implied hierarchy remains: John Barry never sampled FBS. Actually, I think the same issue exists for indie musicians: I remember Sleater Kinney saying “Brian May’s such a cheese ball, a total riff guy but his dedication to the guitar is admirable in some ways” which, aged 18, I though was a cool thing to say but really, isn’t it just another form of hero worship, albeit through a more cynical lens: an astronomer may look at a distant star through a telescope and pronounce ‘that star is dying’ but the star still isn’t looking back at the astronomer and Brian May will never say “Sleater Kinney make brittle, reductive, underwritten alt.rock but their dedication to the guitar is admirable in some ways”.

  198. 199
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Mar 2014 #

    Maybe right now Manchester’s suffering an identity crisis. There’s a huge, studenty rump of emerging artists not even born at the time of Pills N’ Thrills N’ Bellyaches, The Stone Roses or 808:90, and wanting to do something completely different, aesthetically and musically, to the above, but it’s not exactly like anyone holds a gun to their head making them beg on their knees and pray to Tony Wilson, or Morrissey, or the Gallaghers. Or do they?

  199. 200
    tm on 29 Mar 2014 #

    I think there’s a trade off in the broadband globalisation of pop: greater diversity of influence but at the expense somewhat of regional identity.

  200. 201
    fivelongdays on 29 Mar 2014 #

    My annoyance with the whole ‘Behold our NORTHERN power’ thing was that it (a) often replaced genuine band identity with a regional one (b) always looked like playing the Noble Savage to London based music critics and (c) it was almost exclusively Northern bands (well, Greater Manchester) bands who did the regional thing (at least post the height of Britpop) – can’t remember Radiohead banging on about the Thames Valley or The Prodigy giving constant big ups to North Essex.

    (And, yes, there is the Bunnied Welsh Band, but it always seems to me that you know when their next album isn’t going to be that good when they ramp up the Welshness in interviews/song titles)

  201. 202
    Tom on 29 Mar 2014 #

    *crowd applauds warmly as TM brings up the 200*

    Oddly enough when I was a nipper at the height of Madchester there was a lot of fretting about how London hadn’t had a strong musical identity since the Clash.

  202. 203
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Mar 2014 #

    Flowered Up! Oh….that might be why

  203. 204
    Ed on 29 Mar 2014 #

    If Flowered Up were the answer, it was because people were asking the wrong question.

    This sounds like a pretty strong musical identity to me, from 1990, straight out of Stoke Newington: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SciKyogccN0&feature=kp

  204. 205
    Izzy on 29 Mar 2014 #

    198: I doubt The Stones had anything to do with it since aiui they have no rights to their catalogue pre-circa Let It Bleed. ‘Don’t touch anything Allen Klein weaselled the rights to’ should be the first rule of sampling; even teenage me knew The Verve were going to get killed for it.

    I’m sure another indie band were bled 100% a couple of years further back, for basically the same reason but possibly much more innocuous. Was it Carter USM: ‘goodbye Ruby Tuesday/come home you silly cow’?

  205. 206
    Tom on 29 Mar 2014 #

    #204 you will be amazed to learn that this fretting – in the NME i think – confined itself to indie bands. Not that I knew much better at the time.

  206. 207
    tm on 30 Mar 2014 #

    I don’t think MCR should recycle its glory days but when I first ventured into town in the mid 90s, there was a vibrant local scene flavoured by hip hop, drum n bass and even jazz with no concern about what indie scene was considered cool, even locally. It seems like that’s gone and Manchester seems to be looking more to London for its style cues than ever before.

  207. 208
    Middlerabbit on 7 Apr 2014 #

    As far as the sampling of The Last Time for BSS goes,I thought nobody came out of it looking very good.

    1. The Stones, hardly a band with too many scruples about ripping off other people’s records goes.

    2. Whoever it was who wrote the string riff for the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra is the one who deserves the credit, really.

    3. At the time, it was hard to get hold of the ‘original’ of the sample and Ashcroft repeatedly claimed it was only a little bit of bongos that had been sampled. My girlfriend was a much bigger fan of The verve than I and she was adamant that the sample was practically inaudible. She was quite taken aback when she finally heard it, as were a lot of people. Ashcroft did himself no favours by claiming it was bongos only.

    4. I don’t mind the sample and maybe it’s a bit harsh to give 100% of the publishing to Mick and Keef, but tough, really.

    5. The video was also a rip off, as mentioned.

    6. The stunning lack of ideas from the band and those around it astonishes me. Total lift of the instrumental backing, cliched whining for lyrics that have no coherent message to offer at all, video idea completely ripped off.

    7. My first thought on hearing it: where’s the chorus? Why doesn’t it go anywhere?

    8. As for Urban Hymns, it was a record of three parts.
    i. Bittersweet Symphony.
    ii. The big ballads with big, sad chords and big, obvious, sad words.
    iii. The aimless noodling, ‘jam’ ‘songs’.

    This was ii. Music for people who aren’t big on subtlety. Lyrics for people who need everything spelling out for them. Records made by 4 or 5 ‘lads’ in jeans and leather jackets, who tend to get a bit maudlin when they’re drunk.

    Which, as a Northern male, I recognise, even if I’m not one of them. Mawkish sentimentality, as seen at relegation games in football.

    Men ‘like’ crying in public just as much as women do. We just cry about different things. For men, it tends to be as a result of beer and self-pity.

    I never saw The Verve live, although I had the first lp and a few early 12″s. A Northern soul made me feel poorly, quite honestly. Urban Hymns was, I thought, mawkish bollocks.

  208. 209
    xyzzzz__ on 19 Apr 2014 #

    “I sympathise with the “rock music has to rock” argument – mostly cos I agree it tends to be better when it does – but I think that descriptive ship sailed in 1965 or so.”

    You gave Hendrix a four or something didn’t you? :-)

    Anyway, bought it all at the time, looking for psychedelia but it wasn’t there, or it had been stamped out. I was thinking I wish I could hear more of McCabe’s work on it. Sounded like he was told to shut up and take the money because he’d paid his dues.

    Similarly some of the US bands (Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips) came round to make hay and play the festival circuit.

    Think the best thing was reading about Spaceman 3’s “Playing with Fire” (which might have gotten a reissue at the time because of all of this) and that was what I was looking for! All the risks in songwriting, arrangement, lyrics…the psychedelia is a shift from the 60s they were of course referencing too.

    Still listen to that lots!

  209. 210
    xyzzzz__ on 19 Apr 2014 #

    To go way up again Descension were ok though :-)

  210. 211
    Ed on 19 Apr 2014 #

    @209 I think if you were being a real purist about it you’d say Hendrix didn’t actually rock all that hard; at least not with the Experience. Mitch Mitchell was quite a loose, jazzy drummer whose great hero was Elvin Jones, and Noel Redding was a frustrated guitar player who was (obviously!) never going to be allowed to play guitar in that group.

    Put them together, and they were a much less hard-rocking rhythm section than, say, Ward / Butler or Bonham / Jones.

    I am not sure that that was why Tom marked the Hendrix record down, though….

    As for the terminology, I agree that people generally started using “pop” and “rock” as near-synonyms in about 1965, but that was solely due to an accident of history. It just happened to be the case that the biggest pop performers at the time were also the biggest rock bands. Now that’s not true any more – and actually it hasn’t been true for a long time – I think it’s time to bring the distinction back.

    I don’t know enough about the history, but didn’t jazz emerge as a clearly defined genre only in the 1950s? Before then it was all just popular music. Same thing with classical music. I am pretty sure they didn’t call it classical when Mozart was writing it.

  211. 212
    xyzzzz__ on 20 Apr 2014 #

    Ed that’s a fair assessment but I don’t think Tom would be looking at the purity of the thing. I should re-read the entry. Mostly joking about.

    Jazz was pop in the 30s and 40s. With classical that goes out of the window, the pop era coincides with the physical object surely, although you could say Mozart was a ‘star’ of his day.

  212. 213
    tm on 21 Apr 2014 #

    Couldn’t you equally argue that the looseness and swing of Hendrix’s rhythm section allowed him to rock more effectively (certainly to roll more!) Black Sabbath for example didn’t always rock much: many of their best songs are conducted at a menacing crawl.

  213. 214
    xyzzzz__ on 21 Apr 2014 #

    The rhythm section is usually responsible for the roll bit surely.

  214. 215
    Cumbrian on 22 Feb 2016 #

    All the way back at #50 on this thread, I noted that Richard Ashcroft had not seemed to have done anything in music since 2010 and might actually be retired. I must be signed up to some ancient mailing list because, today, a link to his new single dropped into my inbox. To be honest, he should have stayed retired – the more I think about (T)he Verve records that I still play (and unlike some of the bands I listened to in my youth, I do still play them), the more and more obvious it is that they were at their best when he cleared off out of the way and let the instrumentalists get on with the serious business of creating something worth listening to. Indeed, the more indecipherable and down-mixed his voice is, the more I like them – so up to about half of A Northern Soul then.

    One assumes that this is simply an excuse to get back on tour and take some appearance fee money. I can’t imagine he’s going to make any money off the insipid dreck he’s just landed in my email.

  215. 216
    Patrick Mexico on 23 Feb 2016 #

    NME in “being unpretentious, straight to the point and genuine in my lifetime” shocker, c. Christmas 2005:

    Letter: “What’s wrong with Richard Ashcroft comparing himself to Jesus Christ? Since when did he write a song as good as Bittersweet Symphony?”

    Editor’s reply: “And since when did he write a song as shite as Money to Burn?” :D

  216. 217
    Andrew Farrell on 19 Jan 2017 #

    #30: not just the video – along with the song name, they also brought in Wil Malone, the string arranger from Unfinished Sympathy.

  217. 218
    Music Marketing on 18 Oct 2017 #

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  218. 219
    Gareth Parker on 3 Jun 2021 #

    I don’t mind the Verve in places, but I’m sorry to say I find this single to be a bit of a dirge. 3/10.

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