Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Verve, Forth

The Wiganites are back. A review

Ten years after their acrymonious split, the return of The Verve as the musical highlight of 2007 was spoilt by two other massive reunions. First, The Police were quick to steal the limelight. But even that was nothing compared to the attention grabbed by Led Zeppelin with their first concert in twenty-five years. For someone as big-headed as Richard Ashcroft (you may remember his delusional claims that The Verve are "the greatest band in the world"), that must have been quite disheartening.
The Verve disbanded at their commercial peak in 1997. The title of their album Urban Hymns had turned into a prophecy. Their hits, Bitter Sweet Symphony, The Drugs Don't Work and Lucky Man had truly turned into the generation's dullest anthems. You wouldn't find a single pub juke-box without any of them playing on repeat.

Which explains the mixed feelings about their return. Did they leave it too late? Or should they have waited until the forthcoming 90's revival to maximise their commercial fortunes? In terms of sales, it looks like they did the right thing. Their comeback single (premiered live at Glastonbury) Love is Noise scored a UK Top Five hit. Including references to 19th century English poet and painter William Blake ("Do those feet in modern times/Walk on soles that are made in China?"), the single may signal a return to form. The most electronic track of the Verve's career, the sampled "woo-hoo" vocal and synths stake out new territory, but rarely have Ashcroft's vocals sounded as raw and angrily passionate.

Their signature anthemic ballad comes in the guise of Valium Skies, a guaranteed future concert staple which is reminiscent of 1997's Lucky Man. Cue football geezers singing along to it pint-in-hand. But if that's on the most inspired side of The Verve, everything else is a faithful representation of The Verve's lesser known stuff: dirge-rock (the tuneless I See Houses and Columbo, for instance).

Only one song is less than five minutes long on Forth- which begins with the seven-minute jam Sit and Wonder, a nod to their early experimental self-wanking days. Atop a big bass groove and foreboding atmospherics, Richard Ashcroft pleads, "Lord, give me the light". Quite a humble statement for his ego. You'd expect someone like Ashcroft to pen a line like "Lord, hold that light for me, won't you". The poor listener, in the meantime, is pleading the Lord to give them more patience because those songs really feel like they're going on forever.

But let's not get too harsh on them. With Numbness, in fact, they got the title spot-on, while Noise Epic gives the tangible feeling of unfinished business and the same is for the seemingly endless Appalachian Strings.

Though I've never been the biggest Verve fan (too blokeish for my liking), a side of me is quite pleased to have them around again. A bit like the thin comfort of running into a familiar face you haven't seen in ten years while getting bored shitless at a party full of strangers. Except that within five minutes of chatting you are reminded of why contact had been lost for a full decade.

[Forth is out on Parlophone on August, 25]

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