On Second Thought… Urban Hymns by The Verve

Each week, we take a retrospective look on albums which we think are either criminally underrated or woefully overrated, and why they actually rock/suck.

Urban Hymns, the third album by The Verve, is considered by many to be one of the very best albums of the 1990’s, and on the face of it you can see why. Surely an album that contains songs as triumphant as ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and ballads as deeply affecting as ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ has to be a masterpiece. But these are only two of the album’s 13 songs – quite a small proportion. The big issue is that too many of the songs making up the rest of the album just meander on for far too long. In fact even the two songs above veer worryingly in this direction. When listening to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ there was a point where I thought the song must be coming to an end, just to see that there was another minute and a half left. Now it can be partially forgiven in those grandiose but immensely catchy cuts, but has anyone ever found ‘Weeping Willow’ or ‘Velvet Morning’ stuck in their head? Probably not.

The albums’s best moments come when they either step up the tempo or strip away the more standard rock arrangements to create semi-acoustic ballads like ‘Lucky Man’. But even the more propulsive and bombastic rockers like ‘The Rolling People’ and ‘Come On’ feel over-extended to within an inch of their life. Every song seems to flow at roughly the same tempo and that becomes quite tiresome when the album is over an hour long. There needs to be something to jolt us back awake in the mid-album lull (which, frankly, isn’t much shorter than some entire albums). And no, most of the songs aren’t bad. Quite the opposite in fact. The issue is the concept of taking an idea and rolling with it. Clearly nobody told Richard Ashcroft that you don’t have to keep rolling with it for five, six, even seven minutes without any real musical change.

Honestly, if they cut about two minutes off every song then it would be right up there among the best albums of the 90’s, but, as it stands, reaching the end of an album is closer to a relief than a disappointment. My frustration comes almost entirely from the brilliance of most of the songs, infuriatingly limited by their unnecessary length. What’s wrong with the classic three minute pop song, lads?

Click here to listen to the album and decide for yourself if it’s frustratingly paced or full of sweeping majesty.