The second album by Wigan quartet 'The Verve' was clouded by negative reviews and severe media attacks of accused drug-use and violent natures within the recording studio. Both true to an extant, but the outcome wasn't a flop, it's The Verve's masterpiece and it deserves far more recognition than being 'that album before 'Urban Hymns'. Producer Owen Morris produced 'Definitely Maybe' by Oasis several months prior to 'A Northern Soul', but his alternative, britpop style of production carried on as The Verve looked to secure themselves with a wider audience. The Verve released the John Leckie, shoegaze filled 'A Storm In Heaven' in 1993 under the artist name 'Verve', before changing name to The Verve in late 1993. The history was set, the emotions were running wild and the four lads had the ability and backing to create a sterling album. And it was, but for some reason it's missed out among those 'classic' 'indie' albums of the 80's and 90's.
Some fans may have heard 'Gravity Grave' in live form, from the 1994 compilation album No Come Down. That track takes a thunderous bass riff and repeats it with many variations for over nine minutes with Peter Salisbury's enigmatic drumming and Nick McCabe's psychedelic guitar work. A Northern Soul carries on this psychedelia, but adds energy and power. 'A New Decade' has an epic guitar riff and a deep bass riff which destroys my speakers. Ashcroft sings with emotion and THATS what separates this album from Cast or any alternative rock band from the 90's. He sings with such passion and personal emotion, with his heartfelt lyrics at hand and wide vocal range ready to break windows.
Left sided bass, right sided percussion, 'This Is Music'. It opens with two lines of lyrical reality, "I stand accused just like you, for being born without a silver spoon." The guitar work blasts and the drumming caves in. The volume needs to be pointing right and you have to be able to hear Ashcroft's falsetto mid section before the revengeful closure of dissent noise and distorted melodies. The psychedelia is put on hold for the third track 'On Your Own'. it's romantic and it's sad. The acoustic guitar work is simple, and the majority of instrumentals here are simple, but the message is stark and uplifting. Ashcroft's vocal layers and falsetto close this track, making way for the melodic 'So It Goes'. This track is far more slower and darker, with hints of guitar chaos and drumming repetition, but the production stays Strong and the instrumental stands out as one of the more atmospheric on the album.
'A Northern Soul' rips through with it's loud guitar riff and electric bass. The drumming is spacious and allows room for pace. Ashcroft delivers one of the darkest, thought provoking personal vocals I've ever heard. He questions his own identity, his lifestyle and his ability to maintain a relationship. High pitched synthesizers and further guitar riffs power on as The Verve quickly become one of the loudest bands around. 'Brainstorm Interlude' screams out towards youth, as the drumming pounds with the foggy vocals. It's six minutes are pure hazy and funky, with delirious bass riffs and 60's-esque guitar solo's.
'Drive You Home' is incredibly relaxing. The dream pop guitar is eerie to the point of falling asleep at the wheel, pun not intended. The guitar work is beautiful and the beat, although pretty repetitive, has it's shining moments. 'History' has its place within 90's emotional alternative rock. with the William Blake lyrical opening surpassing the orchestral violin opening. The verse plays on as the bridge takes place with brilliant repercussive strings and emotional Ashcroft vocals. History is a desperate call of affection sung with the deepest emotions imaginable, it's a masterpiece.
The last few tracks are less energetic but far more melancholy. 'No Knock On My Door' has a brilliant guitar riff and an aged Ashcroft vocal which sounds very sparse. The darker 'Life's An Ocean' doesn't give me the same sophisticated vibe as some of the earlier tracks. It's part of that back album, lack of energy, lack of structure tracks that we see so often. 'Stormy Clouds' has more synthesizer work and darker vocals. The drumming is incredibly slow and feels too sporadic for this type of instrumental.
'(Reprise)' closes the album with a jam session. The guitar drones are thunderous and re-live those dark shoegaze days. Nick McCabe comes into his own with his truly magnificent guitar work. The session lasts for about six minutes before the lads compliment themselves. Albums are usually far from self appraisal, but A Northern Soul has that appraisal and appreciation by the band. In the years following, ever member has mentioned it as one of the decade defining albums, and the band at the top of their game. I think the demo sessions for this album show great raw and powerful material and I'm glad they managed to replicate the demos into something energetic with fantastic production. they have done themselves proud, regardless of critical reception. This is an outstanding piece of British alternative rock, far from the likes of Blur and Oasis.