Review: A Northern Soul
Wigan Peerless - The Verve's engine-room propel "Mafd" Richard towards new horizons. More thrust, man!
The third best album of the year? To 'Mad' Richard , Ashcroft's ears,
that's like damnation with faint praise, but then it was his mate Noel Galiagher who said it.
Oasis' LP would be tops (obviously), then Paul Weller's, then 'A Northern Soul' by The Verve.
Richard probably won't be punching Noel's lights out over it.
For a band who emerged looking like a bunch of fragile young poets, 'The' Verve (it'll sit right one day) seem to have acquired a good
line in Class-A British rock'n'roll thuggery, finally graduating in advanced hotel-wrecking, even
coming on a bit handy when confronted by a Parisian security team five times their size.
even say that Wigan's premier space-cakes, have just Oasis-ed up their act, especially as,
for this second LP, they've hooked up with 'Definitely Maybe''s makeover wizard Owen Morris.
The truth of the matter is that the two bands share a markedly similar vision, borne of hopeless
afternoons in Lancashire, doomed romantic liaisons and fantasies of somehow escaping it all. The
Verve even have a track with the same title - and sentiment - as Gallagher's 'Slide Away'. It
opened their debut album, 'A Storm In Heaven', in 1993.
Musically, mind, The Verve are on another planet altogether. Like early U2, Bunnymen or Waterboys, they're after a Big
Music that knows no horizons. It often seems like theatre, with Ashcroft as the leading player,
howling ! off-mike, pulling wacko faces and flapping his arms like a loony, but that's just
down to the sheer dynamic aspirations of the band behind him. One minute, they're launching
him to the top of a mountain in a force-ten gale, the next laying him down on a deserted
beach in summer, with waves lapping at his feet.
Until now, Richard has had a rather submerged vocal presence. On 'A Northern Soul', he - and the band as a
whole - hit full voice, as he weaves a series of narratives and dialogues
that, in the process, lure you into the thrall of their drama. "Come on and listen along
with me, I think you need a little company" entices the big bro-type, character on the
opening 'A New Decade'. And on 'This Is Music', "I've been on the shelf too long/Sitting at home
on my bed too long/Now it's time to hear my song/How's the world gonna take me?.. Come inside. "
Let the ceremony begin, kind of thing.
Richard's sheer motivation and intensity is astonishing. On the awesome 'History', The Verve make their most elaborate use of strings to date, and yet there's
hardly a moment on it when he's not singing. "I've gotta tell you my tale, "he urges. Several
times. By and large, the tales are pretty bleak. 'History' is about a Northern lad who runs away
to London and loses what little he had. 'So It Goes' offers the desperate insight that "You come
in on your own in this life/Youknow, you're gonna leave on your own", while 'No Knock On My
Door' and the exquisitely folksy 'On Your Own' plumb Morrissey-esque depths of low-rent gloom. The
title track, meanwhile, is about someone having a bad trip alone in their bedsit. Drugs aren't the
The transcendence comes, for Richard as much as anyone else, in the music. When the
band hit on their maximum-thrust-Scotty space-rock roar, they're unstoppable. They're still far
from concise - 'This Is Music' and 'On Your Own' were probably the singles because they were the
only tracks beneath the five minute mark - but the album's rammed with groovy pyrotechnics and
melodic dazzle. Guitarist Nick McCabe especially shines, proving himself the master of both
flamboyant, flipped-out electricity (check the Hendrixy 'Brainstorm Interlude' - phwor!) as well
as blissful moments a la Tim Buckley ('Drive You Home').
After Ashcroft's opening entreaties and
the urban nightmare scenarios that follow, the final tracks resolve into an elemental calm and a
closing instrumental, 'Reprise', which might almost have you believing you've pegged out and
claimed a free ride to heaven. That'll be a bit too proggy for some tastes, but the way the whole
lot hangs together as a complete journey puts 'A Northern Soul' ahead of most albums you'll
hearthis year. Third best or whatever, it'll still be blazing at your synapses for many months to
Soundbite: "Wiggin' Out Casino re-opens to great acclaim." ANDREW PERRY Pics: NEIL COOPER
Originally Appeared in Select, August 1995
Copyright © Select.