CD Review of Forth by The Verve
Recommended if you like
Radiohead, Spiritualized, Oasis
Label
On Your Own
The Verve: Forth

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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T
en years ago, the Verve began falling apart on the road. Guitarist Nick McCabe split, and the band’s final tour dates in 1998 found them still in fighting good form with B. J. Cole and lead singer Richard Ashcroft covering McCabe’s parts, but something was missing. It was no surprise when the band split at the end of the tour. Something was also missing when Ashcroft embarked on a solo career not long after, although his three albums were solid, and were well-received for the most part in his native Britain (and mostly ignored in the USA – the typically fickle American audience checked out after they got over their fixation with the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”).

Though reunions have become a cliché, the Verve’s resurrection (in its original lineup – second guitarist Simon Tong is absent, with only drummer Peter Salisbury and bassist Simon Jones rejoining Ashcroft and McCabe) is most certainly a welcome one. They approached an artistic peak with Urban Hymns in 1997, meshing their psychedelic tendencies with pop songwriting into some of the best music Brit-pop had to offer. The very fact that their songwriting and arrangements advanced significantly from album to album (not unlike Radiohead’s parallel path) left one wondering just where the band’s muse would take them next.

The bad news is this: Forth doesn’t quite deliver a brilliant step forward for the band. This is understandable, though – what mere mortals could so quickly resume any kind of forward momentum after abandoning a particular path for a whole decade? And given that Ashcroft’s solo work got further and further away from the sweeping grandeur of the Verve with each record, it’s also understandable that songs like “Sit and Wonder,” “Judas” and “Rather Be” come off like B-grade Ashcroft solo tracks that aren’t quite gussied up enough by the Verve’s band dynamic. What’s more, the pop hooks that defined the success of Urban Hymns and Ashcroft’s better solo tracks are muted, if not entirely absent.

Verve

The good news, however, is that at least half of Forth is at the level of the band’s best work. The tripped-out space rock that was so proudly on display on 1995’s A Northern Soul and their earlier work makes a welcome return on a few tracks. “Numbness,” in particular, burns slowly, being not much more than a loose, reverb-heavy jam, with Ashcroft’s “numbness on the brain” chorus echoing the sound of his ecstasy-fueled heyday in the ‘90s. But it’s the driving, forward-moving “Noise Epic” that packs the biggest punch, with the last minute-and-half of the eight-minute performance accelerating to a frantic pace as Ashcroft confidently proclaims “I got spirit / We got the feeling!”  

With the gimmicky but infectious single “Love Is Noise” and the beautiful “Lucky Man” sequel “Valium Skies” rounding out the best of the tracks on Forth, the lingering impression of the album is that of a band in transition. Though not all of the songs stick, the band’s natural chemistry – Salisbury’s occasionally jazz-infused drumming, McCabe’s artful guitar textures, the band’s expert command of dynamics – flatter even the lesser songs beyond their worth. As they regain their footing, the Verve very well may top themselves again. As it stands, Forth is still one of the most welcome reunion albums of the past several years.

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