Urban Hymns, 1997
There was more to the 1990s than Britpop. Indeed, a quick run-through of the Number 1s from the decade suggests that cheesy pop was by far the dominant commercial and cultural force, with the Spice Girls, Westlife, Peter Andre among the horrors to leave their filthy, manufactured mark on those times.
Then there were the genres that barely troubled the charts, such as dance, metal, trip hop, and the mysteriously elusive drum ‘n’ bass (I’m still not sure what that was, or where it went).
Many people chose their camp and largely stuck to it. But unlike many of its Nineties peers, Urban Hymns transcended the boundaries of musical taste. You heard its melodies jangling from everywhere: student bedrooms and coffee shops; in supermarkets, cafes and bars; on commercial radio stations and at dedicated Britpop nights. The shoe-staring indie kids loved it, naturally, but so did the clubbers, the goths and the popsters. Druggies admired the post-addiction angst wrought deep in the lyrics. New Lads loved it as much as anyone, finding a new hero in Richard Ashcroft, who instantly made it acceptable to swagger through the streets swinging your arms and acting like a tit.
As a Britpop devotee, I had a copy; of course I did. But I didn’t listen to it that much back then. The songs seemed to go on slightly too long, meandering beyond their natural cut-off point (the whole album clocks in at well over an hour). It was also among the more melancholy and introspective offerings of the mid 90s. This is unsurprising, given the not-so-private turmoil the band had been through, but this was a period when I felt anything but. I was having the best time of my life, and Urban Hymns failed to chime with it; I was more at home with the upbeat jollity of bands such as Supergrass and Cast.
I dug Urban Hymns out while writing my Britpop-themed novel, to see if the more reflective, middle-aged me could reappraise and appreciate anew its qualities and charms, which are widely acknowledged by critics and fans alike. Still nothing; it’s just possible that I’m the only person who grew up in the 90s who doesn’t like it all that much.
In fact, in pretentious, self-important muso style, I prefer their earlier stuff, especially A Northern Soul; a simpler, more plaintive and (slightly) more upbeat record. This really is music. And the fact that I like it best, while most people prefer Urban Hymns, makes me extremely cool and knowledgeable. So there.
Top three Verve tracks: