Urban Hymns by The Verve


BREXIT has caused even more problems than those of us who voted against, could have anticipated. One of the issues is the huge queues that build up in Kent as trucks carrying goods towards the cross channel ferries have to wait in line before their paperwork can be inspected. This causes major delays for everyone using the A2 and A20. It seems that the trucks don’t work.

What? Hang on. Is it really “The DRUGS don’t work”? I always thought it was TRUCKS. Oh dear. It’s a bit like me thinking that Ringo Starr was singing “And I won’t need me hair thinned” on “Act Naturally”.

A human brain comprises billions of cells, called neurons which are organised into circuits. Each circuit performs a different function. For a circuit to be activated, a neuron sends a signal to an adjacent neuron by releasing a neurotransmitter into the gap between it and the next neuron. This gap is called a synapse. A receptor in the receiving neuron is responsible for receiving the signal. A transporter in the receiving neuron sends the neurotransmitter back to the original neuron to recycle it.

Drugs such as marijuana and heroin activate neurons that would not normally be activated. Drugs like amphetamine and cocaine release more neurotransmitters than would be normal and they also interfere with the work of the transporters.

The basal ganglia is part of the brain which activates pleasure sensors, sometimes referred to as the reward circuit. Drugs can over activate this circuit, leading to the euphoria of a drug high. With repeated use, this circuit can ONLY be activated by drugs, making it hard to take pleasure from anything except the drug. Richard Ashcroft said in 1995 that “the drugs don’t work, they just make me worse. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. They make me worse, man. But I still take ’em. Out of boredom and frustration you turn to something else to escape.”

The extended amygdala is involved in feelings of stress, anxiety, irritability and unease and increased drug use makes this circuit particularly sensitive. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain which powers the ability to think, plan, make decisions and exercise control. Drugs which affect messages to this part of the brain are likely to permit behaviour which a sober person would not even contemplate.

All this makes me sound like someone who disapproves of drug taking but that’s not the case. In a life where the majority of time is used up with maintaining power and an over indulgent lifestyle for the privileged few, any activity that gives pleasure should be understood and, to some extent, encouraged. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to underestimate the devastating effect some drug use can have on many individuals. Drugs do work but the long term consequences often destroy lives.

I went to a London University in the early Seventies and you would think I would be an expert on drug taking. Not once in my life have I ever had the opportunity to take any illegal substance. When I invited a friend round to my parents’ house in 1971 to listen to “Shooting At The Moon”, and he brought some of his friends with him, one of them wrote on a copy of my mother’s Daily Mail, “Is our host straight?” The answer, dear boy, is yes I was and yes I would be forever. It’s not as if none of my friends have ever smoked weed or taken something stronger. What is about people who have sociology degrees? But not once have I ever been offered anything. What would my response be? And is there any real difference between dope and alcohol?

Recent data suggests that alcohol causes 88,000 deaths each year in the USA. Alcohol has shortened the lifespan of those 88,000 human beings by 30 years. All other drugs combined only cause 30,000 deaths a year and that includes 0 deaths caused by overdosing on marijuana. To overdose on marijuana, you would need to smoke about 750 joints a day.

The Verve took plenty of drugs, especially in the mid Nineties. Drugs contributed to the anxiety and infighting that plagued recording sessions and led to the band’s temporary breakup in 1995. But “The Drugs Don’t Work” has a deeper meaning as well. The drugs did not work for Richard Ashcroft’s father who died of cancer when he was 11 years old. He said “What I’ve found with lyrics is sometimes people’s own interpretations are on another level to mine“. “The Drugs Don’t Work” was released as a single on 1st September 1997, the day after Princess Diana’s death and went straight to Number One in the UK Charts. Until Elton John played his reworked version of “Candle In The Wind” at her funeral, this was the song that captured the grief of the nation the most.

The music video for “Bittersweet Symphony” is a homage to the single continuous music video for Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” and shows Richard Ashcroft miming the lyrics while walking down a busy London pavement, without changing his stride or direction. It was released as a single in June 1997 and reached Number Two in the UK Charts, remaining on the charts for three months. It is based on a sample from the Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral cover of the Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time”. The Verve had negotiated rights to use a sample of the riff from the recording’s copyright holder, Decca Records, but they did not obtain permission from former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, who owned the copyrights to the band’s pre-1970 songs, including “The Last Time”. This led to a lawsuit which was settled out of court, resulting in The Verve relinquishing all royalties to Allen Klein. In addition, the songwriting credits were changed to Jagger–Richards, although in 2019, Jody Klein, Allen’s son, decided to facilitate an agreement which Richard Ashcroft described like this: “As of last month, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signed over all their publishing for “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, which was a truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do. I never had a personal beef with the Stones. They’ve always been the greatest rock and roll band in the world. It’s been a fantastic development. It’s life-affirming in a way.”

“Urban Hymns” comprises 14 songs and lasts for nearly 76 minutes. I reckon you can approximate the date that an album was released by its length. When the sales of CDs was at its peak, CDs were often over 70 minutes long but now that the coolest acts release their albums on vinyl, the length of a new release has reverted to 40 minutes or thereabouts. “Urban Hymns” was the third album that The Verve released, and is the 19th highest selling album in UK Chart history (squeezed between “Back To Bedlam” by James Blunt and “x” by Ed Sheeran). They would go on to make one more album before disbanding in 2009.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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