The '90s were filled with pop supernovas -- bands that burned brightly for one or two albums then sputtered to an anticlimactic conclusion. Of these bands, the Verve were one of the largest, perhaps because they imploded not once but twice. The first time, they collapsed following the release of their second album, Northern Soul, in 1995. They regrouped in the following year to record Urban Hymns, their commercial breakthrough, but lingering tensions between vocalist/songwriter Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe tore the group apart for a second and final time. They never became the global superstars that their early partisans predicted -- it would have been hard to compete with Oasis during their heyday -- but as the 2004 collection This Is Music: The Singles 92-98 proves, the group was too arty, too low-key, too psychedelic, too English eccentric to be superstars. Some might have said the same thing about Radiohead, but that Oxford quintet had a heavy dose of U2-styled anthemic arena rock and Thom Yorke's melodies were bigger than Ashcroft's subtle, swirling tunes. Also, Radiohead started out relatively straightforward and grew strange, while the Verve took the opposite path, beginning as post-shoegazer neo-psychedelics and ending as tasteful traditionalists. This Is Music -- which is the natural and perfect title for this compilation -- doesn't chart this journey, since it winds through the group's 12 singles, including the first LP appearance of their debut single, "All in the Mind," with little regard for chronology before ending with two OK outtakes from Urban Hymns ("This Could Be My Moment," "Monte Carlo"). This sequencing doesn't emphasize similarities throughout the body of work -- Urban Hymns is a decidedly less adventurous album than its two predecessors, which doesn't make it a lesser album -- but it doesn't hurt the collection, either, since it flows like a good concert. This collection also confirms the suspicion that the Verve were an album-oriented band that best conveyed its mission and sense of purpose on its singles, which expertly captured the feeling, spirit, and mood of each full-length record. And that's why This Is Music winds up being definitive: distilled to their singles, the Verve still sound vibrant and slightly mysterious, wiping away memories of the band's dissolution and Ashcroft's pedestrian solo career, preserving the moment when the group sounded as if the world were at their feet.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine