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The Verve

This Is Music: The Singles '92-'98 (Virgin)

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Clad head to toe in denim, with shaggy shoulder-length hair and wide-eyed, thousand-yard stares, members of the Verve, from Wigan, England, were the antithesis of the early '90s Britpop scene, crashing a party centered around trendy London fashionistas like Suede and Blur. Early material, such as the sprawling eight-minute space-rock epic "Gravity Grave" and the majestic groover "Slide Away," was a series of mind-bending psychedelic journeys that sounded like absolutely nothing else at that time.

Not surprisingly, the group seemed destined for cult-band status. Their 1995 opus, A Northern Soul, would change that perception. More grounded than the band's earlier works, the album was a masterpiece that balanced frenzied psych rock like the gut-wrenching "This Is Music" with breathtaking ballads such as "History" and "On Your Own." Touching on themes of life, love, death, and working-class angst, frontman Richard Ashcroft somewhat reluctantly became a spokesman for his generation.

On their third and final album, 1997's Urban Hymns, it all crystalized when "Bittersweet Symphony" became an unlikely worldwide smash hit, and the Verve briefly became -- ahem -- rock stars. Outsiders to the end, the group broke up the following year, bowing out at the top of their game. This 14-song collection -- including two previously unreleased gems -- is just a tiny taste of the Verve's magic.

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