Release Date: Aug 26, 2008
Record label: MRI Associated
Genre(s): Rock, Pop, Alternative
More bittersweet symphonies from Mad Richard’s mod men after decade-long absence“There’s no need for introductions,” sings Richard Ashcroft on “Rather Be,” one of the signature tracks from Forth, The Verve’s fourth album and first since splitting in 1999. True enough that Coldplay’s Chris Martin has called Ashcroft the “best singer in the world” and, in The Verve’s day, there were few more recognizable and spellbinding bands on the planet than these original Wigan wanderers. Reunions are typically crass affairs: Gigs are booked, money is made and the principals ultimately go about their lives as before, only wealthier.
If you've seen the reformed Verve this summer, at Glastonbury or T in the Park, you'll have seen a live band firing on all cylinders. Inspirational, glorious, uniting: over a decade since their release, 'Lucky Man', 'History', 'The Drugs Don't Work' and 'Bittersweet Symphony' were as moving and somehow, epochal as ever. Richard Ashcroft was on top form too, his voice and showmanship recalling the heady Nineties when he was a lithe, energetic, hollow-cheeked spliff'n'Becks monster with a messiah complex and no shoes.
We've been here before, twice already. In the 1990s, the Verve weren't capable of recording an album without splitting up soon afterwards; usefully, frontman Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe always managed to resolve their differences just as a follow-up became due. Admittedly, the gap between 1997's Urban Hymns and this new album has been unusually long: so long that a couple of years ago Ashcroft declared in an interview that "you're more likely to get all four Beatles on stage" than see another Verve reunion.
Picking up precisely where Urban Hymns left off, Forth is stately and sweeping, an album where the rockers are as slow and deliberate as the ballads. Apart from the cacophonic wailing hook and glitzy club beat of the lead single, "Love Is Noise," there is no dissonance or shock here, only familiarity, and this in turn leads to a surprise -- as by delivering exactly what was expected, Forth reveals that the Verve's story was pretty much complete already, with each of their records functioning as a fully realized act in their progression. Compared to the dramatic introduction of A Storm in Heaven, the escalation of A Northern Soul, and the wistful conclusion of Urban Hymns, Forth is an extraneous epilogue, finding our characters ten years older but not all that wiser.
Sometimes being in love with music is almost as painful as being in love with someone you can’t be with and can't be without. The ups and downs can be nearly as affecting. When the Verve, one of my favorite bands ever, announced they were getting back together, playing Coachella and writing songs for a new album, I was fit to burst with excitement.
THE VERVE Forth (Parlophone/EMI) Rating: N The first album of new material from the reunited Verve in 11 years shows the group struggling to regain their mojo without success. Instead of moving forward with a bold new sound, they seem lost and confused, eventually reverting to the sprawling space rock jams of their early years, which may be their comfort zone, but was the world really waiting for guitarist Nick McCabe to lead the group backwards through a shitstorm of shoegaze blather? Probably not. Those hoping for Richard Ashcroft and crew to pick up where they left off with Urban Hymns are in for a huge letdown.