Volume 91, Issue 42

Wednesday, November 12, 1997

Downey fresh



The Verve
Urban Hymns

After a two-year hiatus which included the band's breakup, British rockers The Verve have returned with Urban Hymns, a sweeping probe of the human psyche and the individual's place in modern society. Through extensive touring and diligent songwriting, The Verve have steadily carved out their own brand of psychedelia and developed a solid fan base in England, most notable of which is Noel Gallagher of Oasis, who humbly describes The Verve as "the only other band of any worth in Britain."

However, with respect and admiration come raised expectations and commercial pressures. As a result, the songs on Urban Hymns are more concise and refined than their earlier, more exploratory efforts. With the addition of keyboardist Simon Tong, the band's sound has ironically become far more simple, as they opt for softer acoustic tones ("Space and Time," "Sonnet") and make good use of standard piano and organ ("One Day," "Weeping Willow").

But what is most captivating about this band are the personal politics of frontman Richard Ashcroft. His bitter disdain for materialism and commercial society is made obvious in the song "The Rolling People," where he sings "I'm on a big jetplane/with my briefcase and crime in my veins/I'll be the first to toast to my robbing soul" and on "Bitter Sweet Symphony" with lines like, "try to make ends meet, you're a slave to the money then you die." Interestingly, Ashcroft juxtaposes this bleakness with "Lucky Man," a self-affirming piece that crystallizes the high of total happiness and serenity. "Lucky Man" is a fantastic song, but placed within the context of Urban Hymns it becomes almost disturbing as it evinces Ashcroft's bipolar personality.

The album's closer, "Come On," is by far the most rocking track, near the end of which Ashcroft loses control in the studio and throws a tantrum on tape. Interesting stuff, to say the least!

–Christian Angelini

Various Artists
The End of Violence

The concept of motion picture soundtracks has become its own commercial venture in the entertainment industry, where soundtrack sales are often more profitable than the film. Producers search for hit music they can include to make the soundtrack a hot commodity. On The End of Violence: Songs From The Motion Picture Soundtrack, an array of sombre and mellow tunes have been brought together to create one of the year's most fascinating compilations.

This CD package contains eight songs written for the film and another four, previously unreleased, among its 18 tracks (including four tracks of dialogue from the movie). As for the line up, the soundtrack has a strong mix of legends, current stars and up-and-coming musicians. Tom Waites, Roy Orbison and Ry Cooder, the composer of the soundtrack, contribute new pieces. Orbison's "You May Feel My Crying" was a song he wrote and recorded the vocals for in 1987 before his death – Brian Eno completed the track earlier this year.

The highlights on this disc include duets from U2 with Sinead O'Connor and Michael Stipe with Vic Chestnutt. One track which stands above the rest is the instrumental trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, who contribute their unique "groove jazz" to this moody collection. What this compilation does best is bring together a variety of styles from country to acid jazz to tex-mex rock, yet never loses sight of its haunting tone. For a soundtrack compilation, this CD is a treasure.

–Neil Malhotra

I Scream, You Scream.
Torch Records

Many of us, as children, had an aversion to brussel sprouts. No matter how much butter your mother put on them to kill the taste, you knew that you were still eating a bland-tasting vegetable. The debut CD of local band Firebox has recalled that bad taste once again.

Firebox has apparently been together for about a year and with their debut release I Scream, You Scream, they surprisingly sound like a band that has been together for about a year. While the musicians in Firebox seem committed to playing live and to recording as a band, the group prematurely released this album before developing a specific sound that comes with the natural evolution of a band.

While the songs on the debut recording would fit perfectly into the Hawk or FM96's formats, it seems Firebox will be unable to rise above the underdeveloped songwriting and mediocre sounds that will forever hold them in the local bar circuit. There is no doubt there is an audience out there ready to receive the music of Firebox, but even those with a willing ear would have to admit this album still needs a lot more spit and polish to really capture the attention of those still listening to bad '80s metal after all these years.

–Tim Merrill

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997