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The Verve
Forth Jimmy Martin , August 12th, 2008 11:05

The Verve - Forth

As Alan Moore recently noted, “There’s a lot of sham in shamanism”. And there you have Richard Ashcroft. After all, for a certain kind of muso, The Verve lost it the moment they added the ‘The’. It may have been forced on them under legal duress, but suddenly their engaging one-syllable mystery was replaced by the kind of name your mate’s parents would embarrass their charges with in clumsy attempts at faux-hipness, earnestly asking you whether you liked Blur or The Oasis. And similarly, as the definite article entered the equation a certain roving, blissful grace and oceanic adventure somehow departed the quarters of Wigan’s foremost psychedelic skysmoochers. Evangelical pomposity wasted little time leaping into its stead. There were astral wastelands in between the ballet-graceful, glamorously fucked kraut-ballad ’Man Called Sun’ and the broad-strokin’ see-your-drinks-off-lads bellow of ‘Lucky Man’. And sure, as the 1990s petered to an end, The Verve were one of the biggest bands in the land. But at what cost?

Memories of ‘Mad Richard’ and the dozy but magisterial sprawl of Storm In Heaven ought to be irrelevant to the discussion of ‘Forth’, which arrives fifteen years and several solo albums later at the tail end of a rocky journey from high-cheekboned starchildren to craggy, late-thirty-something family men. And indeed, it would be, if The Verve didn’t seem to be doing their best to remind us of the distant vistas of their youth. In stark contrast to the more songwriterly strains of Ashcroft’s largely risible solo work, (which was characterised by some kamikaze lunge towards bombastic, canonistic rock classicism) Forth sees them embracing life as a democratic unit again, and one happy to search for some reckless nirvana by way of seven-minute voyages into the ethereal unknown. In theory, the diehard fans of early Verve should be singing “hallelujah” at such developments. Yet a dead giveaway arrives in the title of the longest tune of many long tunes on here: ‘Noise Epic’. Can we really be sure there’s any greater significance to what’s going on if this reformed foursome can’t get it together to name one of their cosmic wig-outs any more poetically than that?

The magical, overarching crooner/sorcerer dynamic between Ashcroft and Nick McCabe that propelled their earlier adventures was no imaginary one, and there’s markedly more of it here, perversely, than on Urban Hymns, which was effectively a dry run for Ashcroft’s Ozymandian solo adventures. Unfortunately, they just appear to have forgotten what exactly to do with it. At least three-quarters of Forth is characterised by taking its time going nowhere in particular, with Ashcroft happy to murmur vaguely important-sounding doggerel over McCabe’s tasteful, yet uninvolving, ambient backwash. ‘Judas’, in particular, is as prettily aimless, meandering and inconsequential as anything off the last Coldplay record, whilst the likes of ‘Numbness’ and ‘Rather Be’ replace the ominous thunderclouds of The Verve’s glory days with something altogether fluffier and less intimidating. It’s a relief that the flagship single ‘Love Is Noise’ is on board, spicing up its chorus with a fresh and appropriately jarring loop and making entertaining work of Ashcroft’s penchant for dressing up cliché and truism as some kind of genuine insight into human life by imbuing it with reckless messianic zeal. It’s the sole moment when The Verve seem capable of filling the stadium-strutting, Big-Music-booming boots they’ve fashioned for themselves.

Yet all told, if Forth is reminiscent of anything, it’s of the comeback of a certain other charismatic Northern gobshite and the band in which he made his name: The rich baritone, the talented guitarist, the relentless egomania, the clumsy cod-mysticism, the pouting lips, the attempt to rekindle the blissful serendipity of youth: Blow me down if it isn’t Echo & The Bunnymen’s Evergreen. And when was the last time any fucker listened to that?