lookback <br> the verve | urban hymns

By 1997 the dominance of Britpop was starting to fade but at the end of September that year The Verve released one of the genre’s greatest albums in Urban Hymns. Now that same record is turning twenty.

Urban Hymns is without doubt The Verve’s most successful album. It spent twelve weeks at the top of the UK Album Chart and was one of the best-selling LPs of the year as well as ranking highly on numerous end-of-year lists. It was also the first of the band’s albums to chart in the US, eventually going platinum and becoming their biggest success across the pond. The Verve won two Brit Awards the following year – Best British Album and Best British Group – with Richard Ashcroft winning an Ivor Novello award, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song and the album getting shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize.

It nearly didn’t work out that way though. The Verve split after their second album with guitarist Nick McCabe departing the group, only for Richard Ashcroft to bring in Simon Tong to work on material that pointed towards a solo release. However Ashcroft had the sense to see how integral McCabe was to their sound and he was added back into the fold, though guitars were less of a driving force than on the band’s previous two albums, with more groove and ambient influences making Urban Hymns anthemic as well as melancholic.

‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ is the album’s, and arguably The Verve’s, defining track (although it peaked at number two whereas ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ hit the top of the charts) yet it would also cause the band the most pain thanks to a very expensive copyright lawsuit. The Verve sampled a small section of The Rolling Stones track ‘The Last Time’ for the instrumental but the Stones’ former manager Allen Klein sued on the basis that a longer section than was originally licensed was used and as a result The Verve lost control of all publishing rights and royalties from the track, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards even getting named in the songwriting credits. Ouch.

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A super deluxe re-issue package, with b-sides hours of unreleased live material including the band’s ’98 hometown show at Wigan’s Haigh Hall, interviews, The Video 96-98 documentary that was previously on VHS only and photographs taken by Chris Floyd, is already out so you can relive the album in all its glory, and bloody glorious it is too.