Wigan Peerless

All of Ashcroft and co's plus two Urban Hymns outtakes

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The past few years have seen The Verve’s stock plummet in value thanks to Richard Ashcroft’s underwhelming solo efforts and a school of bands (including Starsailor and Embrace) who have dumbed down their once proud template, reducing it to pub rock with delusions of grandeur. At their peak, however, in the mid to late ’90s, The Verve were wide-eyed dreamers whose mission was to bypass indie rock’s timidity and, instead, make music that defined a generation. Critics, laughing nervously, dubbed Ashcroft “Mad” Richard.

No matter: there was method in the Wigan quintet’s madness, as evidenced by this compilation, which disproves the notion that big is synonymous with bad. The Verve, for all their vastness, had a tenderness of touch that rendered them distinct from rabble-rousers like Oasis and which was apparent on their earliest singles. The amazing “She’s A Superstar” (1992) was the kind of psychedelic soul that only Spiritualized have ever come close to, the battle between Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe betraying the tension that, in 1998, would bring the outfit to a premature end.

Before then, though, before The Verve were outed as mortals, they would fashion three of the decade’s finest singles, each one of which highlighted different facets of the band. The first, “This is Music”, from 1995, married the head of Joy Division to Led Zeppelin’s heart, its opening line (“I stand accused just like you of being born without a silver spoon”) a stunning declaration of intent. Then, in ’97, from their swan song Urban Hymns, came the brooding “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and the sad “The Drugs Don’t Work”, which encapsulated Britain’s disenchantment with E culture, despite the fact it was penned for the singer’s sick father. Six years on, there are countless copyists, none of whom have come close to echoing their ardour. Now who are you calling “Mad”?

PAUL MARDLES

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