All farewells should be sudden” declared the sleeve of The Verve’s 1995 single ‘History’, as the band chose to announce their first split in clear and uncompromising terms. Turned out their “Hellos” were similarly brief – the reunion that bore ‘Urban Hymns’ two years later lasting barely 12 months. To announce their second regeneration, The Verve gave just a few hours’ notice the week after Glasto 2007. And this time was different. If first time round The Verve had languished in the shade (Noel Gallagher’s dedication of ‘Cast No Shadow’ to Ashcroft was about as big as they got), then the stadium-sized success of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and the seven million album sales that followed have ensured that this comeback has been conducted in the glare of blinding spotlights.
In this glare though, thanks to some epic performances this summer – most notably Glastonbury – ‘Forth’’s opening couplet of ‘Sit And Wonder’ and ‘Love Is Noise’ sees The Verve kick off their comeback in a manner that can only be described as immense. The opener is a twitchy, groove-driven pounder that has grown handsomely from the brittle outlines performed live last autumn. The latter comeback single demonstrates what The Verve do best: allying knife-twisting emotions with brain-engulfing euphoria. As evidence of a creative fuse burning bright in Richard Ashcroft and co’s hearts, these songs are irresistible, but does the rest of ‘Forth’ deliver?
At their peak, The Verve’s songs came out of long, meandering jams. This time, though, with much effort spent putting aside their internal gripes (Ashcroft recently explained that being in The Verve is “no Mills & Boon scene”) as well as writing tunes, time has clearly been limited and a few of the songs seem to have come ‘out of the locker’. Several of the tracks included, with their swelling heartstrings and big choruses, would probably have found their way to Ashcroft’s next solo record (‘I See Houses’, ‘Numbness’). Meanwhile, ‘Judas’’ clunky lyrics about the frontman buying coffee in New York (“New York I was Judas/She said a latte/Double shot for Judas”) could almost be from a Flight Of The Conchords skit about the wayward disciple.
However, they are forgivably unexceptional rather than rotten, and there are moments – notably ‘Rather Be’ and ‘Valium Skies’ – where Ashcroft’s anthemic instincts meld beautifully with guitarist Nick McCabe’s experimental streak to be greater than the sum of their parts. In other words, they could only be Verve songs.
It’s then left to a prosaically entitled ‘Noise Epic’ to launch ‘Forth’ towards a crescendo worthy of reuniting this most special of bands. Despite the unassuming title, the bass and drums lock into a seismic groove, McCabe’s atmospheric guitars swell into a neon brainstorm and sonic prophet Ashcroft begins preaching like a man possessed. Only The Verve can really do this kind of music with true conviction, and it’s something we haven’t heard in a decade. Plus, if there was any doubt as to why the band have bothered to reunite a second time, final tracks ‘Columbo’ and ‘Appalachian Springs’ are a reminder of what we missed out on when the band imploded not once, but twice in their prime. The former track trips downward over Simon Jones’ inspired bass break, as the guitars lightning-strike over Ashcroft’s soulful vocals, while the album’s closer is a stately march of heart-bursting intensity, which builds into a typically euphoric mantra.
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‘Forth’ is greater than either a tentative first step or a mechanical consolidation by a band on the gravy train. It may not be as smooth a mix as the band’s classic album ‘A Northern Soul’, yet the mix of Ashcroft’s balladeering and The Verve’s more experimental instincts compares well with ‘Urban Hymns’, while ‘Sit And Wonder’ alone justifies a second reunion. But ‘Forth’ is also so much more. This album is probably the most solid foundation this quartet have had in 15 years, and it would be a disaster if it wasn’t a springboard for several more. Farewells might be sudden with The Verve, but we don’t want to hear the next goodbye for at least… well, is five years asking too much?