Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Verve
No Come Down

Released 1994 on Vernon Yard Recordings
Reviewed by aaroneous, 19/08/2000ce

I’ve boiled down what makes a good record (by my very biased reckoning) to four essential ingredients. An album doesn’t need to contain them all to be good, in fact, if it contains only one, but has copious quantities, that’ll do the trick for me. But, every time I’m ready to sell back my duds, it’s always because they don’t have any of the following four qualities:

I. You should be able to dance to it (or, at least, tap your foot, thrash your head around, or wave your hands in front of your face like an idiot to it)

II. You should be able to sing, hum, or whistle along to it (if it’s really good, you should be unable to keep yourself from doing this)

III. You should be able to fuck to it, without either of you breaking out in uncontrollable laughter or projectile vomiting.

IV. And, finally, you should be able to trip to it without taking an axe to your stereo in the crazed belief that you are ridding the world of some scourge of ultimate evil that will envelop the planet and render everyone hopelessly square if you don’t take action RIGHT AWAY.

“No come down”, by the Verve, has all four qualities. Okay, so you can’t really dance to it so much as sway, but there’s a lot to be said for swaying. Anyway, this masterpiece of an album, (technically an EP), features a few re-workings of songs off the band’s debut album “A Storm in Heaven”, as well as some which appear nowhere else. There is no comparison between this and any of the band’s other material. For one thing, I think this was recorded in their own studio, away from producers looking at their watches, or A&R guys listening for hits. Many of the songs retain an underlying acoustic quality beneath the caverns of echo created by visionary guitarist Nick McCabe, and all have a much more intimate feel. As a band, the Verve are defined by their dynamics, and there are plenty here; between songs, within songs, and even within notes, as chords fade off to heaven, getting further away from you as you reach out for them. The drones they employ produce continuity throughout the chaos, to positive effect, while backwards guitars, doppler-effect reverb, and church choir vocals swirl and swoop. No, you won’t take an axe to it.

One example of this is the glorious rendition of “Butterfly”, which is literally just one riff on an acoustic guitar, overdubbed with delayed leads, saxophone, percussion, some nimble and tasteful bass work, and the breathy-then-explosive vocals of one Richard Ashcroft. At this point, some of you might be thinking “That jerk?” and I have to say I agree, but the important thing is that this is when the band worked as a band, not a front for a raging ego monster, and the results bring out the best in everyone. Even that jerk.

So, anyway, the song builds and releases in amazing waves of dynamic and psychedelic crescendos; at times fading out to just the bass, percussion, and acoustic guitar loop; then breaking on the shore, with multi-tracked saxophones wailing like seagulls as the guitar delay crashes onto the sandy beach, presumably dousing everyone in seaweed in the process. Everything on this album seems to be in motion, either coming at you or receding from your grasp, making you feel like you’re literally floating in some vast ocean, or some distant star system.

The delicate song “6 o’clock”, starting with nothing but a soft, pillow like guitar line, features Ashcroft singing about walking home in the sleeping city at 6 am, feeling lonely and misunderstood. He says he can almost see a mysterious “blue light”, which causes the music to swell slightly every time it’s mentioned, until it gets that tidal quality of complete abandon, only to return to the street, and the simple fact that it’s 6 o’clock and he’s wasted. It’s like a shot of ecstasy that hits you for just a moment, and then drops you right back where you were.

Epiphanies are to be found all over this album, like in the live at the Reading festival version of their opus “Gravity Grave”, where, after apparently being told they have one minute left, Ashcroft eggs his band mates to “Go up one more time, one more, one more”, causing them to spill out the most over the top and majestic of their aural assaults. The album then ends, a mere 45 minutes before it began, with a beautiful harmonica, acoustic guitar, and keyboard song, on which, you can hear birds chirping all over the track. If it’s the right time of year, try putting this album on at 5:40 am, so that the song “6 o’clock” will come on at 6, and the last song will play as the sun is rising. Then, the effect of the chirping birds will be accompanied by the ones right outside your window! This happened to me by accident (or some divine providence) one morning, and I’ll never forget this album because of it.

If you like this album, you’ll probably like at least some of the stuff on “A Storm in Heaven”, but the three songs which appear on both are definitely better here. The “Northern Soul” record is pretty good also, though a little more psychotic, and “The Verve EP” is a great little demo, but that “Urban Hymns” record is pure poop, with an unnecessary second guitarist and obvious aspirations to grab onto the beer-stained coat tails of Oasis, who used to open for THEM back in the day. I haven’t heard Ashcroft’s solo stuff, but I’m in no real hurry to. Maybe some enthusiastic Ashcroft head who’s heard both this album and that one can e-mail me and change my mind. Until then, I’ll hold on tight to “No Come Down”, and might get another copy in case it goes out print and I wear mine out. Don’t even think about getting it used. No one in their right mind would ever sell this.

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