A Northern Soul

The Verve

Vernon Yard, 1995


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The Verve never quite reaped the rewards of the mid ‘90s Brit-pop scene. They were arguably more accessible than Blur, more relatable than Suede or Pulp, just as deft with attitude and a knack for grand, spacious songwriting as Oasis, but they never cohered those elements into a truly winning album. It was a reformed Verve that finally hit paydirt with "Bittersweet Symphony" in 1997, but they vanished just as quickly as most people assumed they had appeared.

my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 A Northern Soul, the band's second disc, shows a band that not only belonged in the scene but also contributed to it. Much like Oasis, the Verve favors midtempo songs with layers of production, songs that rock but favor atmosphere. In most cases, the atmosphere and the haze tends to obscure the hooks, so that the melodies, however strong, take a backseat to the vibe. It's almost as if the disc is meant to be heard as a piece, as it lacks a few really killer songs that stand alone.

If that sounds like a dry run for Oasis' 1997 effort Be Here Now, it is, but filtered through the prism of the Stone Roses' excellent debut. Check out the six-minute title track, the hazy "Brainstorm Interlude" or the opening duo of "A New Decade" and "This Is Music," which is listed as separate songs but which sound very similar, interrupted only by an insistent tambourine and the working-class-baiting line "I stand accused just like you / For being born without a silver spoon." Evidently, Richard Ashcroft was the original Noel Gallagher, a point that Gallagher conceded in his Ashcroft tribute "Cast No Shadow" from (What's The Story) Morning Glory?.

Unlike Oasis, there is no sense of trying to reach grandeur every time out; the Verve hits it but don't rub your face in it, which is an appealing trait. Unfortunately, they also don't hit that magic formula that results in a must-hear song again and again. You have to be in the mood for this particular vibe; no matter how good it might be, without hooks, the songs tend to blur (not Blur) together. In that sense, picking individual moments is tricky, although "A New Decade" is probably the most pithy moment and the best spot for beginners wondering who this band really was outside of "Bittersweet Symphony."

So, A Northern Soul has its flaws, yet it deserves a mention alongside the other Brit-pop classics from the mid ‘90s and is worth seeking out for fans of the genre.

Rating: B-

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