February 23, 2018

Judas by The Verve and a Cup of Coffee

Best known for their megahit, Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve is a British rock band fronted by singer Richard Ashcroft. Hailing from Wigan, England, the group is world-renowned for their shimmery, transcendent pop anthems. On their final studio album, Forth (2008), the band recorded a song called Judas. If you’re a fan of The Verve Judas and you’d like to get a sense of what the song is really all about, you’ll enjoy discovering the story behind this mellow, almost tender tune.

While many songs called Judas (such as Lady Gaga’s Judas) are filled with overt religious symbolism, the Verve’s version is more lyrically subtle. The song still uses Christ’s betrayer as a symbolic value; however, the lyrics are really about the power of words and labels. Rather than embracing themes of betrayal (these run through typical Judas-inspired compositions), the lyrics mull over the impact that labels have on our everyday thoughts. In fact, the story of The Verve Judas lyrics started when Richard Ashcroft engineered a small-scale social experiment at a Big Apple coffee shop.

According to the singer, he was visiting a bustling NYC coffeehouse and ordering a drink, when a barista asked him for his name; he said the name “Judas” instead of his own Christian name. In his eyes, he was choosing a label that was loaded with negative connotations and dark emotions.

“There’s not been many Adolf Hitlers born post the Second World War and there’s also not been many Judases, perhaps none. It’s a name that’s been vilified, so when I was in this coffee shop I decided that I was going to order a latte, double shot and she said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Judas,’ because it was packed and I wanted to see the reaction…”

By pretending to have such a notorious name, he was out to shock; he wanted to see what would happen. When he told the barista his name was Judas, the coffee shop employee’s response became the second line in the following verse: 
New York, I was Judas
She said ‘A latte, double shot for Judas’
Cry for the things that happen, people need to know
And for a dream to happen
The people in the coffee shop reacted quite strongly to the name Judas – Ashcroft watched their shocked expressions in amazement – he was baffled that the word “Judas” could still pack such a symbolic punch, thousands of years after biblical times…in his eyes, it was time to let go of ancient labels and meanings and move on:

You gotta let it go, gotta let it go
Gotta let it go, gotta let it go aha
Gotta let it go

This trippy, multi-layered track was destined to become one of the band’s last compositions. In the song, Ashcroft bemoans the things he doesn’t understand; he fights the status quo:

But there must be
Some answer
I keep seeking, cause I gotta know
We are numbered, and we are labeled

The Verve, who’ve broken up and reunited at least three times, may still have questions; however, they don’t seem in any hurry to find answers through the music. There may never be another studio album filled with their signature Britpop sound.

The Verve Judas song (along with the entire Forth album) was not lavished with critical praise. In general, criticism was mild, but omnipresent. However, loyal fans of the band enjoyed the typical “shoegaze” style of Judas, and they remained enamored with the song and other tracks from the band’s fourth record. For them, every song The Verve writes and records is filled with a distinctive power and grace.