For the faithful amongst us, The Verve are well and truly back.
Chris Jones 2008
Considering that in a career nearly spanning 20 years that this really is the Verve's fourth album it's not really surprising that there's an aura of anticipation in some quarters. While the band's most obvious fellow-travellers, Primal Scream, have at least managed their personal lives well enough to stick together, the rock 'n' roll soap opera of drugs, exhaustion and Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe's feuding lends a suitably lurid subtext to the music. But it doesn't show on the surface. The band sound unbelievably healthy here.
Anyone expecting a new direction will be disappointed. While Ashcroft's solo years have tightened a few of these ten songs, by returning to the more spacey territory of their classic years the band have delivered an album that will go down smoothly with fans. We get the epic, anthemic moments such as opener, Sit And Wonder, and first single Love Is Noise, alongside the cavernous, reverb-drenched, trippy numbers like Judas ("you know the trip has just begun"). Only Valium Skies may perhaps lurk a little too close to the strings-and-repetition formula of Bittersweet Symphony. .
Ashcroft's faux-american accent still pays homage to Mick Jagger, especially on the Beggars Banquet-era lurch of Rather Be, yet, overall, Forth is really owned by McCabe. His multi-layered, jitttery psychedelia always provides enough distraction to keep the material sounding fresher than it might have. There's a sense of the band taking the leash off and letting it hang, like a post-rave Floyd. Numbness combines David Gilmour's early 70s licks with Ashcroft whispering and intoning like the ghost of Malcolm Mooney. All very cosmic. The only place where this goes a tad too far is on the meandering Columbo - a thudding stadium thumper bolted onto a three-minute jam. Yet even here the production almost rescues it, the looped strings being mind-meltingly intriguing as they blend with more skyscraping six-string work. There really are some genuinely haunting moments here, not least the basic piano vamp of I See Houses.
As to whether you find this kind of exploration worthy of your attention in this post-Roses era is down to whether you missed them in the first place. Forth won't convert anyone who never bought into the band's second-hand stonerisms and Northern braggadocio. However it does mark a very considerable return to active service. Already given a heroes welcome at every festival appearance so far, it seems that for the faithful amongst us, The Verve are well and truly back.