Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Drugs Don’t Work

Band: The Verve
Album: Urban Hymns
Year: 1997
Label: Hut
Status: Disbanded 2009
There’s usually a comedown after a high. And so we come to this haunting and heartfelt track, beautifully played and sung, yet with the most horrible imagery of foreboding ever heard in a popular song: “Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown.” Shudder. The stripped-back guitar, pained singing and slow orchestral notes all emphasise a hurt, downbeat experience.

The bleakness continues. Drugs here are a doomed attempt to escape, instead just leading to an even darker place, new walls of confinement. They don’t ease pain. The only thing that would help is knowing someone else is thinking of you, that you’ll see them again. Without that there’s nothing else in life, a losing streak with no end but death.
From the start The Verve had a reputation for destructive behaviour: drink and drugs (Richard Ashcroft was once hospitalised for drink-induced dehydration in the US), and band in-fighting. It’s a pattern for many bands in this book. Maybe we can only reach the highs after conflict. Or have to be flawed to be great.


Or maybe that’s totally wrong, and the song isn’t even about recreational drugs, but concerns medication. In interviews Ashcroft said he’d suffered from depression. And some interpretations tie the song to the loss of his father when Ashcroft was a boy.

Either way, this song, whose video follows on immediately from Bitter Sweet Symphony’s, was The Verve’s only UK #1.




Extract from page 325 of 2000 Tunes: A History of Manchester Music by M. H. Rees; used with permission. Read the whole series (25 extracts) here; or my summary post. Readers might be interested in my forthcoming novel about a man obsessed with Manchester music - confusingly, it is also called 2000 Tunes!
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