The Verve & Richard Ashcroft’s Album Art & Artistic Vision
Exploring the artistic influences of this 1990s Wigan band
For fans of The Verve and Richard Ashcroft, the artwork that accompanies their albums is a key part of the music itself. From the striking imagery of the “A Northern Soul” album cover to the minimalist design of “Alone with Everybody” – with the iconic “Urban Hymns” in between – each album has been accompanied by its own unique visual aesthetic.
The Verve’s album artwork evolved from psychedelic, abstract designs in the early ’90s to more mainstream visuals of the band members in their iconic ‘Urban Hymns’ era. Richard Ashcroft’s solo work maintained a similar aesthetic, with a focus on simplicity and introspection.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the evolution of The Verve and Richard Ashcroft’s album artwork, and explore how the visuals have reflected the band’s artistic journey. I’ll also talk about the inspiration behind my own Richard Ashcroft painting, painted in a striking pop art style and with my signature Jackson Pollock-inspired technique.
The early years: The Verve’s psychedelic art
In the early years of The Verve, their album artwork reflected the band’s psychedelic and experimental sound. The cover of their 19993 debut album, “A Storm in Heaven,” features a vivid and trippy photo taken by Brian Cannon, shot in Thors Cave in Staffordshire, UK. The emptiness of the photo and swirling, organic shapes and laser blue colour scheme suggest a cosmic journey, reflecting the ‘space rock’ sensation of The Verve’s first album.
On close inspection, a lone figure can just about be seen stood in the background in the centre of the album cover with arms raised, adding further mystique to the composition. Flaming letters of The Verve’s name – then just ‘Verve’ (they added ‘The’ later on due to a copyright dispute) – represents the passion and intensity of this album and the band during their early years.
My Richard Ashcroft painting was inspired by the blue hues featured on the artwork for A Storm In Heaven. The mysteriously deep blue and turquoise blue hues seem to really capture the essence of Richard Ashcroft and the spirit of his musical career. View the painting and shop prints of this in my online shop, here.
This Is Music: The Verve’s follow up album
The band’s follow-up album, “A Northern Soul,” features a much more figurative image – a nearly colourless photograph of the four band members’ faces, gazing intently at towards the camera. This album artwork – along with the music – reflected a move away from the abstract, ambiguous feeling of A Storm In Heaven and its lyrics, to the more representational and concrete subjects written about in A Northern Soul.
This departure from such abstraction in their first album reflects the maturing of the band and its songwriter Ashcroft. They perhaps also lost a bit of their early experimentation musically after their first album; as a … and commercial pressures moulded their music into sounding that bit more polished.
Richard Ashcroft has also commented that during The Verve’s early years, he felt more comfortable singing about abstract topics and with ambiguous lyrics – partly in response to the sudden death of his father when he was aged just 11, and the way in which he would struggle to open up fully in the years following this. However with age he found himself more confident in singing about actual subject matters, which was evident by the time they recorded A Northern Soul.
Finding Space and Time: The Verve’s peak years
The artwork for 1997’s “Urban Hymns,” the band’s most successful album, represents a departure from the psychedelic aesthetic of their earlier work. This album cover features a photograph of the band – this time with five of them, following the recruit Simon Tong – lying casually on a grassy bank in Richmond Park, London. The image, shot by photographer Michael Spencer Jones, captures the band looking relaxed and as cool as any band can – including Ashcroft in a bucket hat and Clarks shoes.
The album cover invokes a possible sense of nostalgia and longing for a simpler time, as well as a sense of cool confidence from the band members. This can be interpreted as therefore perfectly complementing both the album’s themes of confidence and defiance, as well as yearning and loss. The Verve adopted a more mainstream commercial approach to Urban Hymns, which is reflected in the more polished album cover photo artwork.
My photoshoot of me with my Richard Ashcroft painting paid homage to the Urban Hymns album cover. I took the photo with my tripod in my childhood garden while I was still living there in Norfolk. The green plants and grass in the background complemented the dark colours and bold pop art composition of my painting.
The Solo Years: Richard Ashcroft’s iconic images
After The Verve disbanded in 1999, Richard Ashcroft went on to pursue a successful solo career, releasing a string of acclaimed albums that each featured their own unique visual style. The cover of his first solo album, “Alone with Everybody,” is a minimalist black and white photograph of Ashcroft himself, with the title of the album written in a simple, stylish font.
The artwork for his next album, “Human Conditions”, released in 2002, is a dramatic departure from the simplicity of his debut. The cover features a highly stylised, almost surreal photo montage of Ashcroft, with distorted proportions and a vividly coloured background that seems to shift and change as you look at it. The artwork perfectly captures the album’s themes of emotional turmoil and existential questioning.
2006’s “Keys To The World” sees a return to a black and white, or grayscale, album cover. It’s a photo of Richard Ashcroft walking alone down the road – an image we closely associate with him, not least because of the iconic “Bittersweet Symphony” music video.
Ashcroft’s next two albums, “These People” and “Natural Rebel” are similar in style and appearance. They both feature once again features a stripped-down and minimalist aesthetic and photo of Ashcroft against a dark background, grasping a black guitar. The natural progression of album artwork over the career of The Verve and later of Richard Ashcroft as a solo artist, reflect the natural maturing and changing of the voice and sound of the Wigan frontman.
The significance of album artwork in The Verve and Richard Ashcroft’s legacy
The album artwork of The Verve and Richard Ashcroft has played an important role in shaping their legacy and influencing the wider world of music. The striking images that accompanied their albums helped to establish The Verve as a band with a distinct artistic vision and made them stand out from their contemporaries.
Similarly, Richard Ashcroft’s solo work has been defined by its unique and often experimental visual style, which has helped to establish him as one of the most innovative and creative musicians of his generation.
I was lucky enough to see Richard Ashcroft live at the Royal Albert Hall in London in November 2021.
Conclusion: Lucky Man
In conclusion, the artwork that accompanies the albums of The Verve and Richard Ashcroft is a vital component of their creative output. From the psychedelic imagery of their early years to the stripped-down simplicity of Ashcroft’s recent work, each album has been accompanied by its own unique visual aesthetic that reflects the band’s artistic journey.
The artwork has helped to establish The Verve and Richard Ashcroft as true innovators in the world of music, leaving a lasting impact on their legacy and influencing the wider music industry. The thoughtfully crafted album covers have not only enhanced the listening experience but have also become iconic representations of the band’s and Ashcroft’s artistic vision.
The Verve’s and Richard Ashcroft’s album artwork has transcended mere decoration and has become a form of visual storytelling that complements and enhances the music itself. The carefully chosen images, colours, and design elements capture the essence of the albums, conveying emotions, themes and concepts that resonate with the audience.
Beyond the initial impression, the album artwork serves as a gateway into the sonic world created by The Verve and Richard Ashcroft. It draws listeners deeper into the music, providing visual cues and context that help shape their interpretation and understanding of the songs. In a way, the album covers become visual companions to the auditory experience, inviting fans to embark on a multi-sensory journey.
Moreover, the album artwork has become an essential part of the band’s and Ashcroft’s brand identity. The distinct visual style associated with their releases has helped establish a recognisable and cohesive aesthetic that fans can instantly associate with their music. The artwork has become a symbol of their artistic integrity and has contributed to their enduring appeal.
Read my blog post on the relationship between music and art, including the influence of pop art on iconic album covers, here.
Does album artwork still hold the same appeal in the modern era?
In the age of digital music consumption, where album covers have become smaller thumbnails on streaming platforms, the importance of album artwork may seem diminished. However, its significance should not be underestimated. Even in the digital landscape, album artwork serves as a visual representation of the music, catching the attention of potential listeners and creating a lasting impression.
Furthermore, the tangible format of physical albums, such as vinyl records or CDs, allows for a more immersive experience with the artwork. The larger canvas provides an opportunity for intricate details, hidden messages, and additional visual elements that enrich the overall presentation.
The album artwork of The Verve and Richard Ashcroft stands as a testament to the power of visual storytelling and artistic expression. It has not only contributed to the overall narrative of their music but has also left a lasting impression on fans and music enthusiasts alike.
In conclusion, the album artwork of The Verve and Richard Ashcroft has played a significant role in shaping their artistic journey and defining their musical legacy. By creating visually captivating and meaningful designs, they have elevated the album experience. This helped them capture the essence of their music and leave a lasting mark on the history of UK music aesthetics in the 1990s and beyond.
What is your favourite song by The Verve or Richard Ashcroft? Which other album cover or band artwork would you like me to write about? Let me know!
View my Richard Ashcroft painting and purchase your print of The Verve’s iconic frontman here. Explore more about how music and art interact in the ‘Music and Pop Art’ section of my blog.
Explore my full range of music-themed, Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art paintings and canvas prints at www.bykerwin.com. Prints are priced from £35 – £75, with fast worldwide delivery.