Friday, October 19, 2007

Them and Me, We're History, There Ain't Nothin' Left For Me

I like this blog to be mainly positive in outlook, but sometimes it's both satisfying and necessary to prepare a good hatchet job. There's been a lot of ten year anniversary nostalgia for 1997 recently (and I've joined in with this myself, it was at that pivotal point in my late adolescent life that shall always stick in my mind). There have been thoughts about OK Computer, Be Here Now but, oddly, nothing written about Blur's supposed 'reinvention' as Pavement-influenced marginals. Right now, given their announcement of new shows and new material, the focus is very much on The Verve.

I'll confess that ten years ago, they seemed special, even before everyone latched on. One event is particularly etched upon my memory - an Oasis show at Earl's Court, for which The Verve were support act. The horrible, leery, great unwashed Oasis fanbase jeered, hissed and booed, repeating their mind-numbing chants for the headline act throughout Ashcroft and Co's set (remember that Urban Hymns hadn't yet been released at this point). I was thinking privately to myself - there's something anthemic and uniting here, and you lot are going to feel very silly in a couple of months. I was right in some ways, and really quite wrong in others.

In 2007, I find 'Urban Hymns' completely unlisteneable, not just because its popular singles have been overplayed to the point of tedium, but because, with the greater knowledge that's come with ten further years of musical exploration, it's a wretched record. Richard Ashcroft had the kind of self aggrandising, misplaced conviction that now looks wholly unattractive in every sense. His vocals, whilst forceful, are also monotonous and his pitch is frankly poor, even for a pop singer. When Chris Martin introduced him at Live 8 as the greatest singer and songwriter in the world, I had to laugh.

I am now bored to tears by the predictable harmony of 'Lucky Man', the middling, meandering melodies of 'History' and 'The Drugs Don't Work', and the false leaps at grandeur that came with those cloying, sugary string arrangements. As for the quasi-mysticism and faux-philosophising of much of 'A Northern Soul' and all of 'A Storm In Heaven', they can take it all back. The rhythmic backbones of much of their less mournful material seem leaden and deadweight now.

Whereas Radiohead's OK Computer, whatever one might think of it, had an eerie presience in 1997 (accurately resisting the misplaced complacency of Cool Britannia) that has kept it relevant - exactly what does 'The Drugs Don't Work' really mean in 2007? Most of its spine tingling qualities appear to have evaporated with the passing of time.

Perhaps the group's legacy has been irreparably damaged by the feeble quality of Ashcroft's solo material, and I'm being unfair. Yet I can't help feeling now, whilst admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, that his lofty pretentions at poetry were all too transparent then too.

Yet people still seem to care about this group in 2007 in a way they simply didn't about Ashcroft's solo material - hence the massive ticket sales for the huge arena shows at the end of the year. I don't get it - it's past history, and I'm going to adopt a revisionist perspective for this one! If I want a slice of '97 nostalgia today, I'll dig out my knackered copy of 'Black Love' by the Afghan Whigs - now I was right on that one for sure!

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