THE VERVE “Urban Hymns” Virgin * * *

After Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, the Chemical Brothers, Goldie and--phew--Tricky, you have to figure that England’s well of ear-grabbing talent just has to run dry soon. And here comes the Verve. Four years after a so-so debut album and two years after the group broke up, the band has patched it all together with a lush, intricate, ethereal sound, psychedelic guitars and the kind of attention to lyrical details that you usually find in folk music.

With the appropriately titled “Urban Hymns,” the Verve has delivered an achingly beautiful record that’s just desperate enough to never get boring. It begins on a hard-to-beat note with “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” featuring a full-blown orchestral accompaniment and the moody mystery of singer Richard Ashcroft, who manages to be strangely detached yet brimming over with pathos all at once.

With such song titles as “Sonnet,” “Catching the Butterfly” and “Velvet Morning,” the Verve are definitely swooning, earthy neo-neo-romantics--the Stones meet Echo & the Bunnymen. “If you want a show, then just let me know and I’ll sing in your ear again,” sings Ashcroft on the regret-packed “The Drugs Don’t Work.” Words that would sound unbearably sappy coming from a less musically suave group sound simply hypnotic in the Verve’s arresting soundscape.



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