Richard Ashcroft, the lead singer of tumultuous ’90s rock savants, The Verve, recently released his new solo album These People. It’s his first effort since 2010’s United Nations Of Sound and his fifth solo album overall.
Many may not be familiar with Ashcroft’s solo work and consider The Verve to be a one hit wonder citing the ubiquitous “Bitter Sweet Symphony” from 1997. They might be surprised to learn that Urban Hymns, the album from which “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was taken, sold over 10 million records worldwide. It also spawned two other U.K. top 10 singles, “The Drugs Don’t Work” and “Lucky Man” although neither cracked the U.S. Billboard Top 100.
In addition to Urban Hymns, The Verve have three studio albums. A Storm in Heaven (1993), A Northern Soul (1995) and Forth which was released in 2008 after the band took a nine year hiatus. Unfortunately, and despite the superlatives that fans and critics throw around about each, these albums and the tracks contained therein don’t get enough credit because they lack a song like “Bitter Sweet Symphony” to get people’s attention, though. And that’s a wrong we’d like to help right by offering our take on the 10 best tracks from The Verve (off their four studio albums) that you probably didn’t hear on the radio. Songs that may make you a convert.
10. “Valium Skies” (Track 8, Forth, 2008)
This song, which was never released as a single, lives up to its title. It expertly, slowly and sluggishly lulls you and brings you in until it builds to a rapturous finale. According to Ashcroft, the term Valium Skies is a metaphor for depression. It’s also about the highs and lows Kate Radley has to deal with being married to the volatile singer:
She got all I need
The air I breathe
When it comes to my valium skies
She don’t mind if I cry
9. “Space and Time” (Track 7, Urban Hymns, 1997)
A song that truly showcases Ashcroft’s range as a singer as he goes from thoughtful to beautifully booming “I just can’t make it alone.” “Space and Time” is a shining example as to why The Verve were easily the best balladeers of all the bands that were deemed “Britpop.”
Not to mention, with poignant and heartfelt lyrics such as “We have existence and it’s all we share,” it’s easy to see why their fan base carries such a deep devotion.
8. “Rather Be” (Track 3, Forth, 2008)
The second single off Forth, “Rather Be,” is a song about information overload and the ensuing fear that occurs by the onslaught of death and destruction in the news cycle. Conversely, it addresses the visceral feeling of being on the planet and in the moment and having an appreciation for that miracle.
Feels like our last embrace
In a world full of confusion
Yeah the human race
But i’d rather be here than be anywhere
Is there anywhere better than here
7. “A New Decade” (Track 1, A Northern Soul, 1995)
After its subdued intro that almost comes off like an interlude, Ashcroft wails:
A New Decade
The radio plays the sounds we made
And everything seems to feel just right
Coming through your lonely mind
“A New Decade” bombastically announces A Northern Soul is going to be a much different listening experience than the more psychedelically infused A Storm in Heaven. What’s more, “A New Decade” sets the tone for an album drummer Pete Salisbury proclaimed, was “one of the best albums in the last 10 or 15 years. As good as Nirvana’s or the Roses.”
6. “Blue” (Track 8, A Storm in Heaven, 1993)
A fitting first single from the first album when they were just known as Verve and one of the few radio ready tracks from the album. “Blue” is an excellent example of their early more lyrically abstract work:
We could steal a car and listen to the stars
I can see you’ve choked on them too
Simon Jones’ bassline provides a staunch backbone providing an emphatic reminder as to how tight this band could be live as Blue comes in at a concise 3:24. The second shortest track on A Storm in Heaven.
5. “On Your Own” (Track 3, A Northern Soul, 1995).
The second single from A Northern Soul is a song that deals beautifully with loneliness and mortality.
All I want is someone who can fill the hole
In the life I know
In between life and death
When there’s nothing left
Do you wanna know?
You come in on your own
And you leave on your own
Forget the lovers you’ve know
And your friends on your own
“On Your Own” is one of many that were autobiographical from the A Northern Soul sessions. Ashcroft was dealing with his longtime girlfriend running off with his childhood friend and the recording was fraught with chaos and heavy drug use.
4. “Already There” (Track 2, A Storm in Heaven, 1993)
The celestial guitar playing of Nick McCabe is highlighted here as well as John Leckie’s engineering work. “Already There” is a highly evocative achievement with McCabe’s guitar playing underpinning lyrics such as “‘Cause I’ll be hearing music till the day I die” and “You were walking round like you’re some kind of angel.” A truly transformative piece of music.
3. “The Rolling People” (Track 3, Urban Hymns, 1997)
One of The Verve’s more rollicking rock songs that is more Led Zeppelin than Pink Floyd and more “Ramble On” than “Dazed and Confused.” It is an unusually anthemic track for The Verve that has all the rock indulgences including booming guitar solos and the sing along chorus:
So come alive with the rolling people
Don’t ask why
We just know
2. “History” (Track 8, A Northern Soul, 1995)
One might say the third single off of A Northern Soul is a direct descendant of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Both are achingly heartbreaking songs borne out of the Shakespearian tragic love live’s of both lead singers.
This is the first track where the band incorporated strings which gives the song an extra sadness. When Ashcroft proclaims “I’ve got to tell you my tale. Of how I loved and how I failed” you feel it in your very soul.
1. “Slide Away” (Track 2, A Storm in Heaven, 1993)
McCabe’s guitar and Jones’ bass fuse perfectly for an out of this world psychedelic experience. “Slide Away” is the song that garnered the band enough attention to be put on the second stage of the 1994 Lollapalooza bill along with The Flaming Lips and Luscious Jackson, and helped them gain a little traction in America.
It also is, undoubtedly, in the argument as the best song that the band ever produced.