The Verve's Album 'Urban Hymns' has now sold over 2 million copies in Britain alone...to celebrate, we include 'Sonnet' the single that never wasTo be strictly accurate, there was a limited 12" single released featuring three previously available B-sides, alongside equivalent re-issues of the three hits from the album; apparently this was the result of a compromise between the record company (who were understandably eager for another hit, especially since a moderately popular band who'd split to relatively little fanfare in 1995 had unexpectedly re-emerged as one of the biggest acts in the country) and Richard Ashcroft (who thought three singles from an album was plenty).In other countries where Ashcroft seemed to hold less sway, there was a CD single and demand in the UK was sufficient for that to sneak into the Top 75 for a week; it's now available as a digital single for anyone interested. Under the circumstances I feel a little mean applying the "flops" tag to this post, butI couldn't think of a more succint way to indicate the songs that didn't make the Top 40.
I'd become rather fond of The Verve during their downtime, after buying their posthumous single 'History' and picking up the album A Northern Soul at mid-price; I couldn't resist feeling a little smug when it went back up to full price in 1997. Between that and the first two singles I had pretty high expectations for the Urban Hymns and I can still recall the faint sense of disappointment that began to set in as ballad followed ballad and the whole thing dragged on for what felt like about two hours. There isn't really a bad song on there but there's just too much time where not enough happens, and it's not surprising in retrospect that much of the material was originally meant for a solo Richard Ashcroft album. 'Sonnet' is perhaps a tantalising glimpse of what the album could have been with a different focus: though recognisably a solo Ashcroft composition, it's much crisper and more focussed than many of his others, running to less than four-and-a-half minutes and full of well-crafted little details (note Nick McCabe's distinctive lead guitar work through the verses). I can understand that fans of the more wigged-out part of the band's repertoire or the ones who liked them when they were still called Verve might not be too fond of this one, but at a time when a lot of what they did seemed to be falling between two stools I'm quite glad they went all the way with this. It shows up the Embrace track (same producer, same record company, clearly aiming in the same direction).
This track does have one slightly sadder association, as it was the record Radio 1 played to lead up to the announcement that John Peel had died; no prizes for guessing what they played after the announcement.
Also appearing on: Now 37, 38, 39, 71
Available on: Urban Hymns