Streets Are All Quiet

Simon Tong joined The Verve as guitarist when Nick McCabe left and then stayed on when he came back (awkward! as the youngsters say). When in 2006 Damon Albarn put together a supposedly nameless band around himself, Paul Simonon (coaxed out of painting to pick up his bass again) and Afrobeat drumming legend Tony Allen, Tong came on board too. The Good, The Bad And The Queen was a very English sounding album (despite Tony Allen on drums)- Dickensian almost, songs summoning up London murk, dark, damp streets and noise coming out from behind half closed doors. This song, the album closer also called The Good, The Bad And The Queen, opens with pub style piano and closes with all of the players racing each other to get to six minutes plus ending. The album was produced by Dangermouse but doesn’t really sound like it.

The Good, The Bad And The Queen

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Living With Me’s Like Keeping A Fool

I’ve decided to play join-the-dots this week. Monday was DJ Shadow. Yesterday was DJ Shadow as part of UNKLE with vocals from Richard Ashcroft. Today is Richard Ashcroft as singer of The Verve. Plus those strings at the end of UNKLE’s Lonely Soul would segue very well into today’s song.

History is from A Northern Soul, The Verve’s second album. Their early singles were great records- huge, fluid, sunscraping psychedelia, with ‘Mad’ Richard claiming he would fly and believing it. By the time of A Northern Soul they’d cut down the sprawl to more a concise, more classicist, song oriented thing. I blame Oasis. History is a stand out song- a sweeping, desperately, achingly sad string section, an acoustic guitar and Richard bemoaning his lot, world weary, bummed out, alone and full of self pity. It’s a song for wallowing in (but not for too long, it’s not healthy).

History

Richard channeled metaphysical poet William Blake for the first verse. Blake’s London goes…

I wander thro’ each charter’d street, / Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. / And mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

Richard has it as…

I wander lonely streets / Behind where the old Thames does flow / And in every face I meet / Reminds me of what I have run from.

He layers it on- living is for other men, three is company, how he loved and how he failed, you and me we’re history, nothing left to say, living with me is like keeping a fool. This longer album version finishes with ‘I’ve got a skin full of dope’ part, which- let’s be honest- may be the crux of the problem. She may have left ‘cos you were always stoned Richard.

The third album, Urban Hymns (Bittersweet Symphony excepted) is one-paced, radio rock, far less interesting and obviously far more successful.

>I’ll Take You Down The Only Road I’ve Ever Been Down- Remix

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It all ended up a bit silly for The Verve didn’t it? After their early days with their ten minute psychedelic guitar trips about men called Sun and ‘Mad’ Richard claiming that one day he’d learn to fly they found a new audience with the arrival of Britpop and the patronage of Oasis. 1995’s A Northern Soul contained various career highpoints and I’m not sure their big seller (Urban Hymns) has held up that well. Too much mid-paced balladry, which they’d actually perfected in some style on the previous album with the song History. The comeback a couple of summers ago was entertainingly funny, with that huge indie anthem singalong at Glastonbury and then an album that led to an enormous collective shrug. Then they split up again. The less said about Richard Ashcroft’s solo career the better, but he hasn’t yet learned to fly.

The tipping point for them was Bittersweet Symphony in 1997, and then it’s follow up, the dirgey The Drugs Don’t Work. Bittersweet Symphony had an eye-catching video, ear-catching strings, and a lawyer-catching sample (which led to them having to give all songwriting credits to Jagger-Richards). I still have a softspot for this song, one of the few Britpop songs that’s worth anything. The version here is Bittersweet Symphony remixed by UNKLE’s James Lavelle, taken from The Drugs Don’t Work cd single, a format I actually quite miss. Ashcroft later turned up on Lavelle’s UNKLE album singing Lonely Soul, a genuinely psychedelic and soulful urban hymn. This remix is interesting enough if you haven’t heard it before but it isn’t going to replace the original.

Bitter Sweet Symphony James Lavelle Remix.wma