December 4, 2003
Like a Rolling Stone: Wherein Josh Jabcuga shares with you the one album that he feels ROLLING STONE magazine forgot to include on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time; also, he gets his heart broken by RYAN ADAMS’ “Love is Hell, Pt.1”
Recently Rolling Stone magazine published its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time issue. It’s an interesting read and a worthy buy at $4.95. It should come as no surprise to anyone that THE BEATLES dominated the top 10 with, not one, but, count ‘em, four albums charting. This
is something that I don’t like to admit in public, but I’m not the world’s biggest BEATLES fan. I think it was one of Quentin Tarantino’s characters that said you’re either a BEATLES fan or an ELVIS fan, and I’m in the latter camp. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate all that the Fab Four have accomplished; they’re just not my cup of English tea.
One of the greatest albums that I have ever heard, and to my shock, one that was excluded from Rolling Stone’s list, is the album Urban Hymns by the now-defunct band known as VERVE (or as they’re known as in the States, The VERVE). The album was released in 1997, and as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the greatest musical releases of that decade.
Most critics and fans will cite NIRVANA’s Nevermind as the best album of the ‘90s, and that would be a fine choice. No one can deny the impact that Nevermind had on the scene. Everyone gives Nevermind its due props, though. THE VERVE’s Urban Hymns is one album that never gets enough praise. I’d recommend it to anyone. Anyone. I can’t say
that about one of my other favorite records of the ‘90s, JEFF BUCKLEY’s Grace (which did make the list, thank you very much). As much as I downright adore Grace, Buckley’s voice can be a bit of an acquired
taste that some people just don’t get, and never will, and that’s fair. That’s why I’m not at all shocked that some people just don’t dig his sound,--you know, that wailing, Robert Plant-having-sex-with-Lisa Gerrand-voice. With THE VERVE’s Urban Hymns, though, if there isn’t one track on that album that doesn’t make you feel something, anything, than I’m convinced you have no soul, man.
I’m certain that you’ve heard at least one of the tracks off the album. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was the band’s biggest and most recognizable hit, notable if not for the classic melody then for the fact that THE VERVE didn’t see dime one out of the song since there was, well, a slight matter of plagiarism involving them and the ROLLING STONES. Don’t let that fool you though. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was better than anything Mick and the boys had written in decades, easily.
THE VERVE released Urban Hymns amid much inner turmoil. The group had conflicting issues among themselves and this would be their final release sadly. Richard Ashcroft is a singer/songwriter of enormous talent, evident on the tracks of Urban Hymns. Songs like “Lucky Man,” “Sonnet” (a song I’ll never get tired of hearing), and “The Drugs Don’t Work” (a tune often covered by Ben Harper in concert, who once said it was the one song he wished he’d written himself). Nick McCabe’s guitar work is a thing of beauty too. “The Rolling People” is a scorcher, as is “Come On.”
When people think of the Brit-pop invasion of the '90s, they think of RADIOHEAD or OASIS. Urban Hymns was just as good as anything RADIOHEAD did in the ‘90s (yes, even as good as OK Computer), and certainly better than anything OASIS did. I’m sorry that the Verve didn’t get more attention in the States, then or now. I’m also disappointed that they were snubbed in the recent Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Not as sorry as I am knowing that THE VERVE sang their last hymns back in 1997, though.
Other omissions that boggled my mind:
DJ SHADOW - Entroducing
SEPULTURA - Roots
PULP - Different Class
SIGUR ROS – ( )
And ROY ORBISON was nowhere to be seen.
Ryan Adams’ “Love is Hell pt. 1”
Speaking of OASIS, rock ’n roll alt-country cry baby RYAN ADAMS recently released two albums on the same day: the catchy LLOR N KCOR (yep, pretty clever there, it spells “Rock N Roll” when held in a mirror) and the superb Love Is Hell pt. 1. (Love is Hell pt. 2 will be released on Dec. 9.) Adams does a stellar cover of OASIS’ “Wonderwall” that ranks right up there with the original.
Most of the press is being given to Rock ’N Roll, Adams’ complete departure from alt-country, which showcases the singer/songwriter’s love affair with, you guessed it, rock music, in the form of a thinly veiled
homage to the music of his youth (but that’s the point, after all). If Rock ’N Roll is a love letter, then Love is Hell pt. 1 is a suicide letter penned in blood and barbiturates (and it’s even more heart-breaking than Adams’ solo debut, the classic if not somehow still slightly overlooked Heartbreaker).
Adams’ trump card has always been his ability to write gut-wrenching ballads, the kind you’d avoid if you were home alone on a Friday night with a loaded .22. Love is Hell pt. 1 should come with a caution sticker for anyone currently on anti-depressants.
The album begins with “Political Scientist,” which finds an introspective Adams singing about one lover who needs another “like he needs medicine.” Adams ends the track repeating, “There’s no guarantees/there’s no guarantees/there’s no guarantees.”
“Afraid Not Scared” is a painful song that starts off “Look at this ocean with everyone drowning, idiots/Screaming, and everyone sinking in slowly/We’re surrounded/In the yellow lights of the city,/Wasted as bodies, in bed with somebody.” Adams’ voice is somewhat chameleon-like, mostly gravelly, though, as it shifts and bends to meet the tone of the song, like loose stone, or more appropriately, gallons of water filling in a hole. “Afraid Not Scared” is a big, hollow hole, and Adams fills it, taking you down with it.
“This House is Not For Sale” is a prime example of Adams’ increasing mastery as a songwriter. With this tale, he paints a picture of a lover that just won’t come to terms with the present. He sings, “Tell them that the house is not for sale/And calm down.”
Love is Hell pt. 1 will sweep you away; it’ll make you lonely, slap you right across the face, giving you that dull sting, filling you with the kind of despair you feel after a coupla’ beers in some motel two hundred miles away from civilization and five hundred miles away from anyone that cares. It’ll chill your bones like the breeze on some August night when the county fair has just left town and you have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll be in for one heck of a winter. At least you’ll have Love is Hell pt. 1 to keep you company.
Be sure to check out Squib Central, written by Joshua Jabcuga, every Thursday only at www.moviepoopshoot.com. (The writer encourages everyone to boycott Rolling Stone after finding out that THE STROKES's "Is This It" was ranked at all [#367]. Well, at least it's better than Clay Aiken or Britney Spears.)
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