Were you to tell the author of the above lyrics how things would turn out. he'd never have believed you. in 1995. The Verve, led by 22 year old 'Mad' Richard Ashcroft were busy self-destructing in South Wales, crafting their second album from days of E-fuelled madness. Depending on who and what you believe, the following are true of the sessions: they'd commence at 8am and last for hours; the record company covered the amplifiers in chicken wire due to the regularity that they were being trashed; hire cars were spun in fields until their wheels came off; tears were common, of both joy and anguish. Half-truths, perhaps, but one thing is certain: band and producer (Oasis-assisting nutcase Owen Morris - the polar opposite of a steadying influence) were pushing themselves to the edge. Madness reigned.
It's no criticism, but all the songs on 'A Northern Soul' from the opening 'A New Decade', through to '(Reprise)' sound the same. Or that's to say. they all stagger along at the same, menacing, strung out 6/7/8am pace and all blend into one another. Guitarist Nick McCabe, a foil without whom Ashcroft has never seemed complete, is either blissed-out beautiful or headfuck heavy, while the dubbed-out grooves of the title track and "Life’s An Ocean" are similarly claustrophobic. You see. musically, this is an album that captures a particular mood - the soundtrack of a never-ending comedown and the perfect backdrop for Ashcroft's anguish. “I'm gonna die alone in bed...";
“I don't believe that love is free..."; “These streets these times they tie me down...". it"s bleak, but beautifully so.
Richard Ashcroft still takes flak for his lyrics. They’re seen as serious-yet-empty sentiments, hollow shells of epicness. A valid criticism now he’s a quiet family man. but not here. This is the language of the hours from which "A Northern Soul' was born, and the hours in which it should be heard. The hours of limitless ambition, raw emotion and utter bollocks.
Punctuating all this chaos, though, there are the two songs that provide the blueprint for the future. And while the sparsely-backed ‘On Your Own', in contrast to its surroundings, is delicate, it’s the majestic 'History', on which Ashcroft: singer/songwriter, for better or for worse, is truly born. No coincidence then, that this was The Verve Mkl's final single before they reformed as stadium-fillers. With Mkll it was goodbye to madness and self-destruction and a hello to string-laden grandeur.
And so, in 2014. with the bad old days behind him. Ashcroft has the ‘Keys To The World': the wife, the family, the house (with the bag of weed inside) and the knowledge that, when he steps onstage this Saturday in Manchester there'll be the biggest crowd of his career singing his songs back at him. The knowledge that, whatever anyone may think of him today, he's made it through and made a difference. He’s a lucky man. but contentment rarely breeds greatness, and his recent material is proof. That stuff William Blake said about the road of excess and the palace of wisdom is true, y'know. Ashcroft knows because he's been there.
01. A New Decade
02. This Is Music
03. On Your Own
04. So It Goes
05. A Northern Soul
06. Brainstorm Interlude
07. Drive You Home
09. No Knock On My Door
10. Life's An Ocean
11. Stormy Clouds