They have their adoring fans and they have their ardent critics, but The Verve have tested us all over the long journey that has seen them reach the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. Today saw the release of the band’s fourth studio album, entitled Forth, and after a busy summer of festivaling, The Verve have once again managed to capture the hearts of a new generation. In comparison to my summer of 1997 though, Forth will never be able to compare…
…1997 was a great year for British music. Radiohead were on a high with OK Computer, a delayed follow-on from The Bends – one of the greatest albums ever written. What was expected, but believed to be impossible though, was that in its own way, OK Computer equalled if not bettered the success of its predecessor. It elevated one of Britain’s most popular groups into the stratosphere and once again set the precedent for the rest of the world to follow. Also that year, when BritPop was in full swing again, came The Verve’s hauntingly brilliant Urban Hymns. It was tough being a Verve fan, as I will explain in a moment, but needless-to-say, 1997 is and forever will be etched in my mind as one of those summers.
I remember the weather that year being surprisingly warm until late-summer and my friends and myself were riding the wave of finishing school, starting college and reaching that age when independence comes one step closer to realisation. Sixteen was certainly a sweet age for me. I can’t remember where I first heard the bowed opening to Bitter Sweet Symphony, but I remember stopping what I was doing and listening. Nothing else, just listening. Of course, I would later come to learn that the piece wasn’t entirely of The Verve’s doing, but in that moment, that first listen, it didn’t matter. In fact, it still doesn’t to this day.
Bitter Sweet Symphony was listened to over and over throughout the warmth of July and August; it became the soundtrack to a happy moment in my life. Although I was an anguished teenager desperately trying to rid myself of the parental tethers, the track and later the album allowed me to escape to a different world. Just for an hour at a time, I could close my eyes, open my ears and feel pleasure creep through my veins.
In comparison and almost juxtaposition, OK Computer took me longer to understand. There was no initial click of fondness, but instead a growing appreciation that started low, but untimately finished very high. OK Computer was praised throughout the entire latter half of ’97, but when Urban Hymns was released in late-September, some of the hype, discussion and likely sales switched allegiance. And from that October to now, the present day, that small round disc has become one of my most valued treasures.
The Verve are one those bands that test their fans to almost destruction. Within the group, both old and new, is talent that can ride the highest wave. Their ability to mix a variety of sounds and textures to produce mesmeric harmonies with heart-touching lyrics is supreme, and while they aren’t attractive to every listener, they are certainly favourable among those who appreciate something that is a little different. Gaunt and hypnotic may be a better words.
It seems though, that with the skill of being able to produce such wonderful songs comes the anguish, tension and bitterness between the very creators. The Verve have split and reformed more times than I care to remember, and among my friends at school and college, it almost became a running joke. After each album the band would split, reform, then produce another stunning collection of tracks. Rinse and repeat a few times and you’ll understand why the observation became a popular talking point.
It has been eleven years since that last rinse, but given that a follow-up to Urban Hymns should have been released a year or two later, The Verve are just a little late to the cashing-in-on-success party. They have however, been busy this summer attending festivals up and down the country. The reforming of the group appears to be another success to add to the previous. And although Forth has garnered some criticism, it has also attracted many comments of praise, and perhaps more importantly, many new fans.
Perhaps someone out there is celebrating their transition between school and college. Perhaps they’ve taken a gamble and brought themselves a copy of Forth. Perhaps someone out there is experiencing my summer of ’97. Who knows? What I do know is, it won’t be long until the rinse-and-repeat cycle continues. It’s almost guaranteed.