Sunday, April 17, 2016
Track of the Week: The Verve "So It Goes"
I've had 90s Britpop on my brain a lot this week. Something somewhere gave me the impetus to listen to music that pretty much dominated my stereo from 1995 to 1998. Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Radiohead all became big favorites of mine at the time. Of all the Britpop bands, however, I loved The Verve the most. Their music combined psychedelia with groovy rhythms and lyrical emotional reflection, and today still sounds pretty unique. "Bittersweet Symphony" and the Urban Hymns album raised their profile stateside, but I was first hooked by their 1995 album, A Northern Soul.
I bought it, in those pre-internet days, without having heard a single song. I'd been in Ireland in January of 1996 for a college debate tournament, and while there picked up a bunch of British music mags that placed it high in their year-end lists. I figured it must be pretty good, and in those days when I listened to Blur and Oasis incessantly, I figured anything the Brits liked must be good. (I bought Pulp's Different Class for the same exact reason.)
It's hard to pinpoint a song from A Northern Soul to highlight, since they're all so good and often go in wildly different directions. Going by how I'm feeling right now, I'll nominate "So It Goes." It comes after the first three songs, which are fairly direct. "So It Goes" is more loose, and it signals a switch in the album, which soon gets more groovy and jam-y. Nick McCabe's guitar sort of flows out of the speakers, like a lotus in bloom, over the top off a head-nodding groove. The lyrics are pretty stark: "So it goes/ you come alone into this life/ and you leave on your own." It's a rumination on mortality and heartbreak, made palatable by the beauty of the guitar work.
As usual Richard Ashcroft delivers them with just the right amount of anguish and resignation. In the The Verve he was this strange combination of sensitive poet and charismatic rock frontman, like the mutant child of Michael Stipe and Steven Tyler. He was a big part of the band's distinct musical voice, one that was too rhythmic for most rock bands, too jammy/trippy for the pop charts, and too "rock-ish" to be avant-garde. (Later hit tunes like "Lucky Man" and "Bittersweet Symphony" came after McCabe had been in and out of the group, allowing the poetic Ashcroft to call the tune.) They are evidence for one of my pet theories about regionalism and rock music. Coming from the mining town of Wigan, they were not part of the whole Madchester thing and its fallout, or the London scene. A lot of music that forges odd paths, my theory goes, tends to come from artists cut off from trend-setting scenes, allowing them to do their own weird things in isolation. That certainly helps explain the Seattle sound of the 90s, REM's emergence from Athens, Georgia, and how Minnesota could simultaneously produce The Replacements and Husker Du in the early 80s.
So give this song and the whole album a listen. I doubt you'll be disappointed.