Monday, March 17, 2008

The Good Ship Rediscovery: The Verve - The Verve EP

We all forget about the older stuff from time to time, in our quest to stay up to speed with the latest and greatest. But one should always respect their elders. So don’t forget about them! Here’s one of my Desert Island, Top-5 records of all time.

Imagine for a moment that it’s 1992. You’re young, bored, and disaffected, desperate to penetrate this abject grayness of the world surrounding you with something beautiful. Now imagine that what you end up creating is not only beautiful, but staggeringly, mind-blowingly so. What you’ve made is an EP, one you give the same name as your fledgling band: you’ve made the Verve EP.

As much as I love the Verve, and bear in mind that they were and quite possibly still are my favorite band, I often think that this self-titled EP is the closest to perfection they ever came. It is but five songs, but that old adage about quality versus quantity rings ever so true in this case. A certain someone I know refers to the Verve EP as “mood music.” Arguably, this is true. All five tracks have an underlying seduction in their pulsating, psychedelic swirl that gives them a drunken, heady vibe. Just switch off the lights and there you are: it’s flat-out intoxicating. It’s as if the EP has a life of its own.

From the first time I heard the opening bassline of “Gravity Grave,” I knew the EP was going to be one hell of a ride. Right away Ashcroft gives you an idea of his porcelain-fragile yet deadly lyrical ability, with lines like, “To me you’re like the setting sun/you rise then you’re gone.” The instrumentation builds and builds until it can’t go any further, and all comes crashing down near the fade-out at the end of the track. Track two is not as frenzied, but “A Man Called Sun” is no less worthy of attention. The song even inspired a band name (Mansun, from Chester, who were originally called Man Called Sun). It’s spacey and hazy and utterly splendid. “She’s a Superstar” was at one time my favorite song ever written, and shows off the unparalleled skill of guitarist Nick McCabe to devastating effect, which combined with the vocals of Ashcroft spouting “she bought the world/I paid the bills” proves spine-tingling. It’s as epic as an EP can hope to be, sweeping and climactic and majestic. Magic. Until recently, I never fully appreciated “Endless Life,” with its’ languid build and slow burn that leads to a fiery end. But now, the song holds equal footing in my estimation. The final track, “Feel,” is nearly eleven minutes long. But I think you’ll find that it goes by in a flash. More guitar tricks and treats from McCabe leads the way, along with more gems from Ashcroft (“I pulled the guilt right over my eyes/as I rose to meet/to greet the sky”). What we have here is Richard Ashcroft’s labor of frustrated love, his realization of transcendence that has just a hint of youthful innocence, making it all the more captivating.

When I first began to listen to the Verve, I was 18 and in my first year of college, far from home. I identified more with the more aggressive, yet still gorgeous, songs found on the Verve’s second album, A Northern Soul. Now, ten years later, I find myself more and more enthralled with the early Verve sound. Perhaps I can finally appreciate the subtle nuances, or perhaps I just feel more in tune with the overwhelming sense of escapism that seems to find me in older Verve material. Either way, if you’ve never really given the Verve a chance, there’s no better time than right this minute, and no better introduction than the Verve EP.

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