Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Vervian heights

OK, so I went a bit overboard on the ASIH reviews. But my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock epic deserves as much volume from its praisers as the context of the albums music.

The Verve
She's A Superstar (Hut, 1992, single)
Key tracks: She's A Superstar
9/10 (8/10)

The quintessential Verve record. Over the course of the two epic tracks which comprise this EP, the band truly comes into its own -- Richard Ashcroft sings like a man possessed and Nick McCabe's guitar is positively oceanic, producing tidal waves of drone which crash and break over the hypnotically liquid rhythms of Simon Jones and Peter Salisbury. Exquisitely produced by Barry Clempson, both "She's a Superstar" and "Feel" generate a dreamlike beauty, tapping into an energy just outside of the realm of consciousness -- it's music which transcends space and time, with a purity unmatched by anything else in the Verve catalog.
-Jason Ankeny

A Storm In Heaven (Virgin, 1993)
Key tracks: Best listened to as a single entity
10+/10 (10/10)

I personally believe that this is one of the most original and vivid pieces of music available. The emotion and texture that is put forth is rare in popular music. The critics, yes there are always critics, should consider themselves for a second before judging a band who were one of the greatest rock and roll bands of their time. For those of you who have not heard this cd, and are here because of Bittersweet Symphony, I would be prepared for an awakening. This is the trip to heaven that Urban Hymns was coming down from.
-Peter Deitenbeck

This album by The Verve is one of the most important albums ever. Every single song on here is mind blowing, from the opening song Star Sail, with it's wispy and feathery guitar lines to See you In The Next One( HAve A Good Time). Each song on here is absolutely insanely perfect. These people who are saying the sound quality is poor and offensive, I have one name for you....John Leckie, he's a genius and if you know anything about anything in British music you would know what he's capable of. I must say this album redefined a lot of parameters in music for the 90's. The Verve are easily the most important band of the 1990's.
-P. Alexander

This review is directed to people like me - 40-somethings who believe that music for the most part entered a vast wasteland at some hard-to-pin-down date, but it was sometime in the late 1970s. Sure, you'll occasionally find a little something that keeps your interest, but nothing compares to the music of your youth. Well, I'm here to tell you that your search is over. "A Storm in Heaven" matches anything you've ever known and loved.

I had only a vague awareness of The Verve's music until recently, and knew nothing at all about "A Storm in Heaven" until about a month ago. Since that time, I haven't been able to bring myself to extract it from whatever CD player I happen to be near (home computer, office computer, living room stereo, car). Yes, it's become an obsession, but the CD is a treasured thing to me, a work of finely crafted beauty. Every track, and they range from dreamy, sensual ballads to trippy psychedelia to bluesy hard-driving rock and roll, is a gem. Ashcroft's vocals veer from tortured to anguished to hopeful, but they're always beautiful. McCabe's guitar work has to be heard to be believed, but ALL the music is incredible.

As other reviewers have said, this album is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's best without necessarily sounding anything like Pink Floyd. But it's impossible to make such comparisons, really. The Verve, and especially this, their best work, has a unique sound. I weep when I think about how most of the world (well, at least the USA) was listening to grunge and crap-pop in 1993, rather than this CD.

And while I'm talking about Pink Floyd, I remember the exact place and moment when I first heard "Wish You Were Here" back in about 1975, and I've never felt I would ever find an album that could replace it as my choice as THE album I would choose to have with me were I ever stranded on a remote island. "A Storm in Heaven" may have done it.

Buy it. It's not for everyone, for sure. But there's an excellent possibility that you'll react like I did the very first time I heard it - my heart soared and my mind expanded.


Simply put, this album is a rock symphony. I like to listen to classical music occasionally, and I am partial to Rachmaninoff's piano concertos. There are few albums in the past decade that are truly albums that flow from one song to the next. This album is an hour of music that can only be described as an emerging kind of genre in and of itself. I don't think any one song on the album stands by itself. You have to listen to the whole thing to "get it." (Although I am partial to #9, "Butterfly.") You also have to contemplate the album art to understand what they are trying to do. They've take the theme of what a storm in heaven might be like -- and they've masterfully captured the concept. The album flows from serenity to chaos and back to serenity; much like a carefully composed classical piece of music. It's as though you see heaven before a storm, you brave the storm, and then you learn and reflect on it and how you've been changed at the end of the album.
-J. Oborny

This is definitely one of my all-time favorite albums. I, like many others, first discovered the most awesome of modern bands--The Verve--when they released their breakthrough single Bittersweet Symphony and its companion album Urban Hymns. I do believe that The Verve were one of the greatest rock groups to come along in quite some time, and I find it hard to pigeonhole them into any category or movement, although they had the shoegazer influences of their time, as well as a wondrous penchant for psychedelia that even blows away many of the bands of the late '60s. I have all three of their major albums, and cherish the songs of Ashcroft and Co. but this will forever remain my favorite. I agree with many reviewers who have said that the few who deeply appreciate this album are affected by it, it leaves an imprint on the inner soul.

The entire album is an enrapturing voyage: challenging, nocturnal, twilight-filled, and a perfect chaser for drugs or other substances (if you are the type). In all actuality, this album IS a drug on its own level.

Take the chance and buy this or burn it. In my opinion, this is the closest thing to musical paradise.

-Graveyard Poet

I first heard "Slide Away" on the soundtrack of an obscure movie called "The New Age" (well worth a look, BTW). Obsessed,I scrutinuzed the end credits until I could make out the name of the band and rushed to my used record store and bought A Storm in Heaven. I was stunned, mesmerized, lost in a state of reverberating bliss. I could not stop playing this disc, and it has remained my favorite rock record for 8 years. Among the reviews here, I've noticed a similar trend -- listeners who were so captivated that they played this disc every day for years.

Some rock is beautiful, some rock is powerful -- but this album achieves a fusion of beauty and power like no other I have heard.

Listen to it at 2 AM, on a good stereo, very, very loud -- or soak it up in on a midnight drive through the moonlit desert. You will be forever changed.

-P. Steele

The title is perfect. It's mellow, chill, psychedelic...heaven. On the other hand, it rocks. Guitars soaring off into space, Ashcroft's voice rising and falling, stretching from peak to peak admist an intense, beautiful clamour...a storm.
I would love to disect this album, listen to each instrument as it's own entity in order to better understand how so many sounds and directions have been woven into a flawless tapestry. The songs glide gracefully into one another, melting from one track to the next, until it spirals into silence.

-Hallie Engel

It can be argued that "A Storm in Heaven" predicted the post-rock movement popularized by Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and Sigur Ros. When it was released in 1993 it stood out sorely amongst the ugliness of grunge and the desolation of post-shoegaze, pre- Britpop England. But in retrospect, "A Storm in Heaven" was at least five years ahead of its time. On this their debut LP, Verve bypassed things like song structure and melody and concentrated on atmosphere. Tracks were left to unfold as they would through extended jams that were edited down to the album's final ten-track, forty-eight minute length. Paradoxically, the album--at its aforementioned length much shorter than many of today's behemoth works such as Spiritualized's "Ladies and Gentlemen..." and Mogwai's "Come On Die Young"--seems like an epic. The songs are relatively short, but their scope is huge. Witness the raging, cavernous guitars on opener "Star Sail" and "The Sun, The Sea". They sound so big they could have been recorded in an airport hangar. Then sample the delicate, blissed-out whale calls of "Already There" and "Beautiful Mind". Couple this with the inclusion of forebodingly blasting horns, punctuating several tracks such as the extended coda on the cacophonous "Butterfy", and the post-rock blueprint is complete. Verve would later be known as The Verve, and its songs would eventually take more form as they reached stardom on 1997's "Urban Hymns". But in "A Storm in Heaven" lies the true heart of a young band turning its nose at the constraints of "rock music". And in it lies the band's best album.
-Spencer Dickson

This is the best CD by any contemporary band ever. If you do not own it, you are doing your emotional sensibilities a great disservice. We all love Urban Hymns and the track by track genius of each song, but you know what? I don't know ANY of the names of the tracks on Storm because the CD is an entire unit that should be listened to in full as a modern musical masterpiece. Actually, when I heard "Bittersweet Symphony," I thought it was good, but a bit simple compared to A Storm in Heaven. Ethereal, enormous in space and sound, it grabs you at the place where you feel like your feet are about to leave the ground, and then takes you to the cavernous depths of the deepest blue. How many CDs reviews do you see that say that the reviewer listens to the CD every day? I have listened to this one every day since I purchased it 4 years ago, and if you read through the other reviews, you will see that I am not the only one. That has to mean something, right? Own it, love it, listen, just listen.
-A music fan

I couldn't believe that Zeppelin and Floyd could sound so hopelessly dated, that this record announced the arrival of the NEW rock stars.

I've listened to this album nearly every day for the last five years and I STILL hear new things in it. Gamble a few bucks, quit your job, hop in your car and hit the road while listening to this; you'll believe all your childhood dreams can still come true.

-A music fan

Going to see The Smashing pumpkins, the support band was some unknown band called the Verve. During their set, a friend later told us, all he could see were fireworks exploding all around him. The thing is he wasen't even drunk. Gives you the general effect of this album. Love them. Hug them and generally stick them on your sound system.

Verve pulls out the strongest and most beautiful parts of its sound here-remember those days when you were, say, seventeen and the world seemed so intense and raw and intoxicating, and as you walked around, you floated through that place like some surreal film? Verve is brilliant passion and poetry and is the shortest distance to that point...

The album is a snapshot of the beginning of the future of rock.
-A music fan

A Northen Soul (Virgin, 1995)
Key tracks: Best listened to as a single entity
9/10 (10/10)

Graveyard Poet
The Verve (a British band from the '90s who started out in a small town called Wigan) are one of the most underrated and incredible rock bands to come along since the '60s/'70s, hands down. Vocalist Richard Ashcroft, nicknamed "Mad Richard" comes from the great tradition of singers as shamans, going all the way back to Jim Morrison. Simon Jones and Peter Salisbury are an ultra-cool, yet detached rhythm duo...and then there's Nick McCabe. Definitely the shining guitarist in modern rock, he is a musical virtuoso, a prodigy of his instrument. They only made three major albums, but all three are masterful and display shards of the band's broken glass life in glowing proportions. Urban Hymns is their swan song and their most "poppy" recording, yet it retains a grace and majesty that is well apparent when it is listened to. Storm in Heaven is my personal favorite and is a band at their beginnings and their roots, having no fear to tread deeply into the unknown. Its sounds are atmospheric and swirling.

Then, in the middle, lies A Northern Soul. Ashcroft barrels through his pains, his joys, and his darkest secrets, while Jones, Salisbury, and McCabe (especially) take this scattered journey with him. A Northern Soul is the epitome of an individual's drug experience and a band's musical experience. It contains wistful, love-lorn ballads, such as On Your Own, History, and Drive You Home; it has grinding rockers like A New Decade and This Is Music; experimental, nearly avant-garde instrumentals-Brainstorm Interlude and Reprise; melancholy meditations on life itself-So It Goes and Life's An Ocean; a bluesy song-No Knock on My Door, a drifting coda-Stormy Clouds, and its centerpiece--the psychedelic vortex of the title track.

This is an album (like Storm in Heaven) that is best listened to as a single entity. Storm in Heaven is an album of ethereal beauty, A Northern Soul one of ethereal despair. Immerse yourself in its sounds on a rainy day and discover your own pains and glories in the process.

Note: Score ratings in bold are Select Reviews, and "( )" the authors cited.