Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Verve: Eternal Paradise

The Verve
The Verve [EP]
(Vernon Yard Recordings, 1992)

Amazon (5/5)
"You're Like A Setting Sun, You Shine Then You're Gone" (Greatest EP Ever Made)
Before Richard Ashcroft talked to God in a phonebox on his way home in "Urban Hymns", before all of the broken glass and Ecstasy-fueled downfall captured in "A Northern Soul", before the band as a whole took an inner trip through the blue caves of the Unconscious in "A Storm in Heaven", there was this EP. It was the first major collection of demos worked and re-worked. It was the Verve starting out on their musical quest. It was the time (alongside more difficult collaborations with John Leckie in "A Storm in Heaven" and nervous breakdowns in the recording studio in "A Northern Soul") in which Nick McCabe was guiding the creative process.

The evidence of this is seen from the very opening chords of "Gravity Grave", my favorite song and one of the Verve's greatest, if not the greatest, of singles, in which Simon Jones locked into a deep-trance bass groove and McCabe buttressed this with reverb-soaked vapor trails. This was a definite free-form jam, which flows over the listener in a repetitive hypnotic harmony. It also includes the most memorable lyrics of the EP (and of almost any of the Verve's songs) as "Mad Richard" intones a mystical vision about a woman he loves, life itself, or maybe both at the same time.

"A Man Called Sun" follows, opening with tinkling bells and a foggy backdrop through which light filters through in golden, airy wisps of sound via McCabe's shimmering guitar lines, and Jones and Salisbury's minimalistic rhythm section. Ashcroft's vocals are sent through an echo chamber that gives the song a spacey, dreamy feel.

"She's A Superstar" is the most accessible and 'straightforward' track, which has an anthemic feel and stretches out into a cresting melody.

"Endless Life" is a hallucinatory journey, acting as precursor to later mood pieces found in "A Storm in Heaven", yet different from any of them as it never reaches a climactic peak, but instead drifts ethereally through a druggy haze of phasing effects which climb ever upwards in smokescreens of crystalline ambiance.

"Feel" (the longest song) closes out the disc with a languorous, gliding (and quiet) jam by McCabe, Jones, and Salisbury, which Richard Ashcroft wraps his obscure, poetic lyrics around in breathy whispers. Then, at about the 7-minute mark, there are tidal waves of cascading feedback from which Ashcroft's vocals and the original jam re-merge, only to fade out as elliptically as it had started.

This EP pointed the direction towards what would become the Verve's full-length debut LP, a melting pot of psychedelia, shoegaze, and space rock, their masterpiece "A Storm in Heaven".

Definitely recommended for the serious Verve fan
and by far the best EP I have ever listened to. -Graveyard Poet

Nude as the news
The Verve EP is the soundtrack to life's beautiful surrealities: enjoying sunrise on a transatlantic flight, aimlessly wandering through a misty jungle, calmly strolling through a city park at 4 a.m. in post-intoxication haze.

The EP's five songs introduced the Wigan, Lancaster quartet as a space-rock combo of the most ethereal order, its music floating in on cool waves of phasing and simmering melodies. Not unlike R.E.M.'s Chronic Town, the central and true sound that this debut EP presents was never to find its direct equal in the ever-evolving band's subsequent catalog (though it serves as the logical foundation for their first LP, A Storm In Heaven).

Guitarist Nick McCabe is the band's psychedelic heart, stretching each shimmering note until it blends seamlessly with the next, and consistently eking great melody out of hallucinatory noodling. Drummer Peter Salisbury shows a great deal of restraint, painting muted rhythms around McCabe and vocalist Richard Ashcroft's harmonic movements. Bassist Simon Jones is the communicator between Salisbury and McCabe, sometimes tugging the songs back toward earth, sometimes following them away on vapor trails.

Though not much more than a half-hour long, The Verve EP is a consistently enjoyable listen, and it remains the cornerstone of a distinguished body of artwork produced by Verve during the band's short but tumultuous career. -Troy Carpenter

1. Gravity Grave
2. A Man Called Sun*
3. She's a Superstar*
4. Endless Life
5. Feel

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