It's been a while since I listened to The Verve.
There was a time I knew every song on every album by heart. I'd cycle between A Storm In Heaven, A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns for months on end, as a result of which I could tell which version of 'Slide Away' was from which live performance or which studio session within the first three seconds.
But that was ten years ago.
Since then I've gone from hormonal, hopeful adolescence to jaded, emotionless adulthood.
But today I play A Storm in Heaven and I feel the same heady anticipation before 'Already There' as I did when I was 19. The same teenage tears sting my eyeballs when 'A Man Called Sun' asks me 'do you think he'll mind?' And I can still see the percussion on 'Butterfly' throbbing perfectly from a thousand miles away.
It takes a great deal of emotional strength to sit through a single album by the Verve, mostly because of the sheer intensity of their songs' subject matter.
The Verve don't mope about the end of a relationship as much as they brood over the inevitability of its demise.
I've gotta tell you my tale
Of how I loved and how I failed
Maybe you know it's true
Living with me's like keeping a fool
They don't show you the glamour of a drug-fuelled high, but the pathos of the comedown.
There you were on the floor
Cut up and all alone
I held you
They don't talk to you about the tragedy of death but the acceptance of the interminable sorrow that follows
Could be a lifetime before I see you again, my love
See you in the next one have a good time.
And they'll push your misanthropic self to embrace the splendour of isolation
Life seems so obscene
Until it's over
You come in on your own
And you leave on your own
Forget the lovers you've know
And your friends on your own
Verve listeners seem to fall predominantly into either the A Storm In Heaven or the A Northern Soul camp. While some of us pick at cobwebs in our lesser-frequented Urban Hymns corner, we all unanimously gloss over the very existence of Forth. However, if there is one song on The Verve's last album worth listening to, it is 'Mover,' probably because it was around before Forth was a twinkle in Richard Ashcroft's eye. On the new reissue of A Northern Soul, you hear the BBC Studio version, and you can tell it carries the same polish as the rest of their second album.
Perhaps that why A Storm In Heaven always seemed to me to be the stronger of the two. While there was no denying A Northern Soul's musical maturity and the far more elaborate spectrum of emotions it covered (daring to venture into themes of defiance and hope, even), the Verve never truly returned to the young, naïve emotional rawness that defined their debut. On A Storm in Heaven and the B-sides it spawned you hear someone struggling to stay nonchalantly afloat when in reality, they're far out of their depth (standard youthful stupidity). Meanwhile, on A Northern Soul, you hear experience and control (which is what you can expect when you're a grown-up for whom death and taxes are de rigeur). A Northern Soul is not as personal, and far more guarded and reflective than its predecessor which sits young, loud and reckless.
A Northern Soul and its B-sides carry a slight self-consciousness, to the point that they are almost too flawless, while A Storm in Heaven is beautiful because it is flawed.
Both albums are perfection of different kinds and in being reissued, they give us the chance to be taken in, transported and transformed all over again. You meet the 'Mover' you never did. You discover 'This is Music' was once 'King Riff', while 'The Rolling People' was, in its original avatar, called 'Funky Jam'(!). These extensive deluxe reissues are a six hour vortex into the best the Verve have ever been and I'd gladly know nothing else in the world if I could know every note on every song on these disparate recordings.
There is one thing, though, that reminds you that they are albums by the same group. The shared conviction that there is only one thing really worth living for.
You better pray when the music stops
And you're left alone in your mind
'Cause I'll be hearing music till the day I die
Jesus never saved me
He'll never save you too, and you know...
I've got a little sticker on the back of my boot
This is music.
10Radhika Takru's Score