The Verve, Bitter Sweet Symphony: behind the meaning of the song

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When recently I heard again The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony, I was walking towards the station, it was 8AM on Wednesday and I wasn’t ready to start the day. I was thinking back to the sad stories spinning around this song and the band that created it. The English group in fact no longer exists since 2009, the year in which The Verve broke up.

Bitter Sweet Symphony, the first track of Urban Hymns, is their most famous song, so much that it was inserted in the 382nd place in Rolling Stone’s 500 best songs of all time. For a complicated copyright controversy, it’s also the one from which the group doesn’t earn anything. In fact, The Verve had agreed on the license to use for a five notes sample, extracted from a cover of Rolling Stones’ The Last Time performed by Andrew Oldham Orchestra, and the permission was granted by Decca Records.

No problems would have arisen if they had not used more than the five agreed notes and the song had not had an incredible success: the combo of the two elements led The Rolling Stones to act in order to get all the rights and have their name among the authors. And they succeeded, of course.

But let’s go back to my Wednesday, started without Verve (pun intended). That song is perfect for the wrong beginnings of a day: when Richard Ashcroft introduced the song at Glastonbury 2008, he shouted: “Life is a struggle, every monday morning is a struggle“.

How many songs with bitter lyrics and low notes of guitar and bass do we know? Probably countless. But then, one day we discovered this. Slowly the symphony of the strings jumped in my morning. I experienced the metamorphosis of the streets, everything vibrated with the beauty of that lyrics, bitterly accompanied to the end by violins. I thought it was impossible that the other’s didn’t see that. How could a pair of headphones and my only person contain that energy?

The strings don’t give up a second, the beauty of that melody insists, trying to dominate the singer’s voice. And the more he cries, the louder they play. Like a duel.

Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money then you die.
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah.

No change, I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t change,
but I’m here in my mold, I am here in my mold.
But I’m a million different people from one day to the next
I can’t change my mold
No, no, no

The music grows up in the midst of an anonymous crowd, rises above an odious routine: is it really possible, it says, that it all ends here, with the race for money, with those two extremes, life and death, that have no explaination? The street is used as a symbol for life. I suspect it’s the same way used by Green Day in the opening of Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Well I never pray,
But tonight I’m on my knees, yeah.
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah.
I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now.
But the airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now

I need to know that someone feels my pain, I need their mercy, I need to be seen for what I really am. Loneliness is not being alone, but not feeling loved. And who loves you is who is next to you when you suffer, who is there when you need to be heard.

That’s why he’s praying, the whole lyrics are a prayer: he cannot speak with anyone, but the symphony inside his head must be shared, cannot and should not remain unresolved.

I can’t change. He repeats it continuously, just like the symphony: because it’s what his heart is asking, he’s repeating to himself. When all around seems to be inconsistent, we come back to our veins, to our dissatisfaction. The change starts when we look for something more.

I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down
Ever been down
Have you ever been down?

And then the final verse of the song, that closes it in an enigmatic way. Speaking of extremes that meet each other: is pain the thing that trigger the change? Is there a path that allows you to purify yourself? Those notes are us. We don’t know who we are and where we want to go, if we don’t listen to out heart.

That’s why, more than twenty years later, we still love Bitter Sweet Symphony. If a song goes beyond the surface of our being and tells us who we are, it will be true forever.

Rating: 3.0/5. From 2 votes.
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