Improvements? The ridiculous, lavish grandiosity of that opener (the most defining song of 90s Britain, perhaps?) isn’t followed by the momentum-and-mood-killing sixth-form songwriter tripe of “Sonnet” but rather by the joyous guitar groove of “Three Steps,” from the b-side of “The Drugs Don’t Work,” with McCabe, Salisbury, Tong, and Jones amping the energy up while Ashcroft claims it “feels so good to be alive” and that there are “three steps to heaven, man / I took two and sat back down again.”
The Verve were always about creating new worlds using sound and you need to enter them completely and unconditionally to get the most out of it. The debut was a strange universe of floating trees and passageways into the afterlife, and A Northern Soul was a decayed cityscape of lust, death, and musical fate, ravaged by elemental forces. So what’s Urban Hymns? A surreal noir where God talks to you only to confirm his non-existence, where redemption is sought and found? I don’t want redemption to be found; films are always more satisfying without a happy denouement. Let’s lose the redemptive ballads.
I happen to agree.