So there’s been some talk lately about an imminent release and reunion by one My Bloody Valentine. A cautionary word, folks — back in the mid-nineties Kevin Shields told yours truly in an interview that the next album was just around the corner in a few months. I’m not holding my breath.
Instead let me talk about a reunion that is now well under way — and is much better already than I could have hoped for, frankly. If all holds up well this’ll be the best such one of its kind since the Chameleons came back in the early part of this decade.
I got to see MBV and all, but I never really got to see Verve. (Quick note — yes yes, ‘the’ Verve but to hell with that; they were Verve for the first few releases before the record label complained about it, and I think ‘The Verve’ sounds as ugly and lumpy as ‘The London Suede.’ Verve it is, period, I will brook no argument.) By the time I did see them — and that literally was almost ten years ago to the day now, crazy to think of it — they had already broken up, reformed, essentially become the first step of Richard Ashcroft’s solo career even while scoring their biggest commercial success. I had missed their earlier shows in LA in 1993 and 1994, shows that friends attended and that I think back on now with ill-concealed jealousy. MBV shredded my sensibilities but it sounds like Verve might have completely pinned me against the wall — to quote an ILX compatriot:
It really is all about their live shows because they were like religious experiences. I even saw their first or second show they ever did live in America it was on July 7, 1993 at the Whisky A Go Go. The most memorable show happened the next year at the Roxy Theatre on Jun 28, 1994 where the show was so loud that they blew the power out. I have seen hundreds of shows and no other band has ever done that. Richard was just saying things like if you want to see the best rock and roll band in the world right now you have to wait a bit. The power came back on finally and they blew the roof off the place, I remember even the employee’s were impressed.
Just…just put me back in the wayback machine for that one, if I had to pick one place to be musically. I’d go there.
To give you an idea why I would say this, let me refer to the entry for their 1993 album A Storm in Heaven in my old 136 list I’ve mentioned before. Written in 1999, it’s my usual folderol of the time but holds up better than some other things I’ve said, to quote some bits:
…here the first thing you hear is a massive guitar chord, and when “Star Sail” proceeds to lift up through the clouds, Ashcroft is saying something all right, but he’s buried in the echo and it’s (guitarist Nick) McCabe’s scrapes, chimes, swirls and kicks which is carrying everything, which pulls back and crashes in again. And that’s why Verve were so great and why even when Ashcroft took control he realized he couldn’t do it without McCabe back, and finally had to fully give it up when the guitarist took a full powder and realized that producing the Beta Band was a more fun thing to do. And it was.
…When I hear scraps of Ashcroft talking about “hearing music until the day I die” and then this wondrous solo kicks up in the fog before the crunch fully kicks in and then there’s talk about “hearing the screams” on “Already There,” it all fits. As it should.
The beautiful afterechoes on “Beautiful Mind,” the flutes on “Virtual World,” the reaching towards something on “Make It Till Monday,” the massive stomp and punch on “Butterfly,” etc. etc. etc. So much to enjoy, indulge, drown in, that’s why this album is such a perfect trip, why where they went next was a comedown no matter how you sliced it. And I haven’t even mentioned the point in “The Sun, The Sea” where everything calms down, nothing but a slight echo and guitar bit and something, Ashcroft floating along with it all then saying, “Hold on now…hold on now…here it comes here it comes HERE IT COMES!” and McCabe and company rip everything apart just like the album title says it would. Man, oh man.
Probably misquoting that last lyric bit there but that’s how it’s always felt. The ever-sharp Tim Finney, elsewhere on the ILX thread I linked, once very cannily summed up the impact of the album so:
…it was basically picking up on an underbelly of shoegaze history – taking its cues from The Cocteau Twins at their most delicate sonically and My Bloody Valentine at their most muscular, rather than vice versa. So it’s much more dynamic and rollercoasterish than most of the shoegazer stuff that immediately preceded it.
So basically what I’m saying is, if you haven’t heard it, you really kinda need to. Meanwhile, the songs from the following two albums that became their defining singles on a more mainstream basis, first in the UK and then towards the end everywhere else, still have a richness at their best. Sure, “Bittersweet Symphony” became its own cliche pretty rapidly but it is one of the few songs I can accurately and simply describe as majestic, almost literally agog with its own power and beauty, while “History” might be the only song that gets away with a William Blake quote and “On Your Own” still has a killer opening lyric that almost justifies all of Ashcroft’s manifest failings in his terrible solo career:
“Tell me what you’ve seen
Was it a dream?
Was I in it?”
I’ve been there. Bet most of you have been too.
Meanwhile McCabe and the band as a whole got to push things more on the album tracks towards the earliest majesty of the group, both Storm in Heaven and the preceding singles from 1992, but by the time everything ground to a halt in 1998 the band had become its own self-parody, Ashcroft clearly thinking himself the most important thing in the group if not human history and McCabe departed in anger and frustration, leaving great but nowhere-near-as-frenetically-crazed-and-majestic session guitarist B. J. Cole to fill out the dates, probably feeling more than a little embarrassed at having to do so. Ashcroft’s first solo single, “A Song for the Lovers,” proved such an artistic disaster I assumed he’d gone crazy, McCabe had retreated to Spain and rhythm section Simon Jones and Peter Salisbury just bummed around a bit with and without Ashcroft, etc. etc.
But. Reunions do seem to happen when the need’s there, the money’s right. Sometimes even the overt cash cow approach still works — the Bauhaus (at least the 1998 tour) and Pixies reunions were frankly driven by the rewards being offered, and turned out to be spectacular successes. Still, when I heard back in summer that Verve were going to follow this road — write new material, set up shows in the UK towards the end of the year — my first reaction was “I got a REAL bad feeling.” I predicted little more than a runthrough of Urban Hymns, maybe something like “Slide Away” as an ‘old’ song. Friend Stripey, a massive aficionado of the band, had great fun analyzing the promo photographs as part of her amused interest in the group’s tortured internal dynamics. Another friend, Chris, expressed his amazement that McCabe was even involved, but Stripey posited that he ‘resents and requires a regular routine,’ and that sounds about right.
Still, little more could be said until it all got underway. Today, Chris had this to say:
So a good quality recording of one of the new shows leaked out and… well goddamn…
McCabe is fucking killing it… I don’t know if he changed around his set-up and got rid of the Quadraverb, or if he’s just showing off but he sounds like Townshend doing shoegaze. The set-list is equal parts old and new (“Gravity Grave” is fortunately in and still just as epic) and yeah, there’s a good chunk of Urban Hymms in the set-list but they sound like the old 1992 Verve stomping through them. I could even stand listening to the otherwise odious “Sonnet.”
The new stuff sounds like they would fit in on ANS – best thing I can say about them right now. Otherwise I’m pleasantly surprised.
Me in response: !
You can find said show recording here, from Nov. 6th in Blackpool. The setlist:
This Is Music
Space and Time
Life’s An Ocean
Sit And Wonder
Let The Damage Begin
On Your Own
The Rolling People
The Drugs Don’t Work
A Man Called Sun
It’s just lovely to hear. Definitely helps that it’s a very good recording, not a soundboard but extremely high quality, and Chris’s comments above capture it better on a technical end than I could. If this isn’t the equivalent of their completely insane earliest days — though the inclusion of “A Man Called Sun,” “Gravity Grave” and “Already There” goes a long way — this is something that frees up everything from the deadweight dragdown of the late nineties. They sound once again like a BAND — a meeting of four minds and talents.
So yeah, MBV reunion would be nice and all. But I admit, what I’m really hoping for now is for Verve to make their way over here. (And if they end up on the same day at Coachella or something, lordy, bring it on!)