Before they were the 10-million-selling estate agent’s idea of indie rock circa 1997’s Urban Hymns, Wigan’s Verve (as was) were speed-freaking, ecstasy-gobbling psych-rock mentalists constantly at each other’s throats over whether they could fly or not (among other issues).
Fearlessly ditching the indie choruses and Primal Scream balladry of early singles All In The Mind and She’s A Superstar – collected on this comprehensive reissue as bonus material – their 1993 debut A Storm In Heaven (6⁄10) merged their intergalactic whale-orgasm screes with the peyote sandstorms of The Doors, plus bouts of free-form sax and woodwind resembling Ron Burgundy blowing fire from his jazz flute.
Considered a noise-rock classic on release, besides the shoe-blues of Blue and Star Sail, it hasn’t aged well, essentially 47 minutes of ‘Mad’ Richard Ashcroft formlessly wailing to be let out of guitarist Nick McCabe’s psychedelic wind tunnel. On Beautiful Mind and Butterfly, Ashcroft sounds like he’s trapped forever in a time travel experiment to 1968 that’s gone catastrophically wrong.
Still, acoustic B-side takes of Make It ’Til Monday and languid, unreleased studio tracks like South Pacific hinted at the Lucky Man millions to come, and 1995’s A Northern Soul (7⁄10) lit the way. Fuelled by “bad drugs”, comedown psychosis and inter-band animosity that saw McCabe sneakily ousted for two years, it’s surprisingly coherent.
Built around heroic acid-blues chest-beaters like This Is Music and the title track, and making the Stone Roses’ The Second Coming look like a drunk dick, it was supersonic Zeppelin speckled with ornate acoustic folk like On Your Own and History, warm-ups for the staggering The Drugs Don’t Work. Though still prone to a lengthy psych wibble, A Northern Soul was a tempestuous transition album from the band least likely to stay together long enough to own the 90s.