Review Summary: Beautifully delicate, drugged out amazing music
Beautiful is the first word that comes to my mind when I listen to the Verve’s masterful debut, an album that was sadly lost in the mix and overshadowed by the band’s later work. But it is this album that most impacted me when I first heard it. Maybe it was the hazy, swirling guitars, the way Ashcroft’s voice glides across these watery soundscapes like a kite, or the brilliant melodies that caught my ear, but it is a downright shame this album never received the acclaim of Urban Hymns, because it as good if not better than that album. A Storm in Heaven straddles the divide between trippy shoegaze and the instantly lovable Britpop melodies perfectly, creating a psychedelic, yet melodic sound that is absolutely heavenly.
Nick McCabe’s reverb drenched, cavernous guitars are one of the most important aspects of the album’s sound. He is a master of manipulating sounds to craft the vast, watery soundscapes. He makes use of everything from crunching chords in “The Sun, the Sea” to the soft, clean guitar tones of the gorgeous “Already There”. Richard Ashcroft’s wonderful voice is buried under reverb and floats over the mix giving the music an even greater psychedelic feel. The rhythm section is a final touch to these soundscapes, helping the music glide on without plodding. The Britpop influence of this album sets it apart from other shoegaze records because these 9 songs are just as much songs as they are layers of sound. It helps too that Ashcroft is a wonderful lyricist, and his vague poetry only adds to the atmosphere of the album.
A Storm in Heaven is far from conventional shoegaze. Throughout the album, The Verve experiments with different sounds and instruments including jazz. Saxophones and trumpets can be heard sometimes in the caverns of sound, turning songs like “Butterfly” into hazy, psychedelic jams. As mentioned before the album is full of great songs that stand well on their own, especially the singles “Blue” and “Slide Away”. “Blue” is driven by a Salisbury backwards cymbal loop and layers of fuzzed out guitars and Ashcroft’s voice buried within the mix. Aschroft sings “Blue, I've got a question every time I hold you, yeah Blue I've got a question every time I swallow you it's true”, hazy, wonderful lines that leave it open to the listener’s interpretation if “blue” is a drug, person, or a little bit of both. “Slide Away”, driven by a watery Simon Jones bassline and gliding layers of guitar, features more vague pictures painted by Ashcroft. As Ashcroft sings “I was thinking maybe we could go outside, Let the night sky cool your foolish pride, Don't you feel alive, These are our times, These are your highs”, the listener is once again left with a scene of drug-addled love and the beauty of life.
Possibly the album’s best track is the delicate, gentle “Already There”, a track that really invokes the feeling of being underwater. McCabe’s soft guitar comes in and out of the mix along with the gorgeous background echoes that splash across the mellow track like salty ocean waves. The next track, “Beautiful Mind”, hits the listener similarly to “Already There”. It revisits the fading background echoes of that track, but uses spacey slide guitar work that swirls around Ashcroft’s voice to great effect. These two tracks are truly heavenly songs that touch the soul, and open the mind through their peaceful guitars, slowly drifting layers of sound, and Ashcroft’s drugged lyrics about achieving spiritual perfection.
Beautiful, trippy, and powerful at the same time, A Storm in Heaven truly lives up to its name: the whole album does indeed sound like a sonic storm of heavenly sound. For lovers of psychedelic music, this album is a must, but it is a great listen even for listeners who aren’t into atmospheric music. Each listen will unfold new colors and layers of sound that you didn’t catch on your last listen. If you can find this record, it would be a great idea to pick it up and immerse yourself in the beautiful sounds of A Storm in Heaven.