The Verve – Forth
Reviewed by Simon Rickards
Back last year came the news that I could only ever have dreamed of. Dreams, sometimes, come true. But all it had ever been was a dream, for The Verve getting back together was, apparently, as “likely as getting all four Beatles on stage”. However, here it was, The Verve was back together and what was more they were recording new material. I pinched myself, was this another dream?
Fast forward twelve months and we are on the verge of hearing the first new Verve material in 10 years. Barren years, with nothing much spectacular to write about. And here I am, with the new album coming through my speakers, ready to give my voice to the appreciation of the genius of a band who I have loved since first hearing them some 12 years previous.
Forth is an album that, rather than picking up where Urban Hymns left, moves The Verve forward to another level. The creative element, the experimentation with new sounds, the heart wrenching ballads and the ‘loud in the car, windows down, driving like a lunatic’ songs show the full range of the talent of 4 men who have musical genius pumping through every vein in their bodies. Richard Ashcroft’s enchanting vocals with amazing range and beautiful falsetto, Simon Jones’ funk driven, thumping bass lines, Pete Salisbury’s ceaseless ability to amaze with versatility of drum patterns, and, most notably, Nick McCabe’s haunting, complex, mesmeric, gigantic and subtle guitar riffs show that he is truly one of the greatest guitarists of this era. All elements blend perfectly to leave an album that will be critically acclaimed and loved by both the hardened Verve fan, those who found them in the Urban Hymns era and new fans alike. The album is self produced and presents a raw, untouched feel to a great many of the tracks.
Sit And Wonder
A song that is already familiar to a great many that have seen The Verve play since reforming, the live track has left many drooling and excited at the prospect of what to look forward to. And, whilst the live performances have been spellbinding, ‘Sit And Wonder’ from the studio only enhances and excites further. A thumping bass line and glorious drumming drive a truly awesome track to heights that even the most sceptical will have trouble not liking. The guitar work from Nick is psychedelic and makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention. Four minutes into the track is a truly perfect break which shows each musician’s talent off to its full. Richard switches between powerful vocals to subtle falsetto that renders the track to the point of anthemic. Whilst the live performances have delivered a darker, heavier song the album version cannot fail to please.
Love Is Noise
This is to be the first single from the album and is easily the most commercially pleasing of all tracks. Remixes have already been done and will be featured on various versions of the single release. It’s hard not to see why the remixes have been done. It has a strong, mantra-like, vocal loop throughout that will stick in the mind of any that hear it. Again the versatility of the lads shines through and synth tracks enhance the brilliance further. The easiest thing to say about this track is that it will be a crowd pleaser...but life is never black and white, this song has deeper elements that when listened to sees The Verve for what they are – the greatest band of its era.
Rather Be is very much a classic Verve tune of ’97 with fantastic layered backing vocals and powerful choruses yet, again, contains so many elements from the guys that just set them apart from anything else around. It is built around a piano-based loop, with subtle string parts and Nick’s souring guitar riffs. My honest opinion, the Urban Hymns pick-up will enjoy this track immensely whilst the hardcore will appreciate it for what it is – myself, I love it!
It is very difficult to define this track such are the complexities. It is driven again by the rhythm section with an amazing subtle and funky drum line, save the bass track (which I note includes so beautiful slide bass work – hats off to Mr Jones!) and more genius from Mr McCabe. The guitar track itself builds from a subtle, gentle riff to a powerful overdriven guitar solo. Richard’s vocals really show themselves to their full. Falsetto, subtle, hard – it has every element you could wish for. Sit back and relax whilst listening to this one – close your eyes and by the end you’ll be floating on a bed of musical luxury.
The perfect come down after ‘Noise Epic’ (see later...come back after listening to it). This has a strong element of Richard’s songwriting throughout. It is a slow, funk driven tune with beautiful ‘lazy days’ vocal line. Musically again it is unparalleled, creating a perfect ambience. One to kick back and relax to whilst listening to a tune of magnificence that will relax the most stressed of us. A word of note – it has been likened to ‘Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd’. Rubbish – this is straight out of the top drawer of The Verve’s musical sock drawer!
I See Houses
Having heard a bad bootleg of this track I was sceptical as to whether or not I would like hearing this – however I need not have been sceptical. I See Houses, whilst more reminiscent of a solo Ashcroft track, has a broad stamp of Verve about it. Subtle strings help to build an almost ‘anthemic’ chorus and some beautiful piano work in the verses again shows the versatility of the work. If there was one criticism to be made of anything on the album it applies to this track – not hearing enough McCabe. It’s there, and when it breaks down it’s with glee that Nick’s swirling guitar is picked up – but for me, personally, I think of The Verve as being very much driven by the genius of Nick McCabe.
I was going to write this at the end as this is the one that stands out for me. Don’t get me wrong, every single track on the album is fantastic, but Noise Epic is one that people will talk about more than any other. And why? It really is totally unique. Drums first – mad! Performed live I think Pete will need to be on a drip! He sets a fast paced groove that just carries on and on... Simon Jones’ bass work is outstanding, Richard’s vocals range from spoken verses to choruses belted out to completely ‘losing it’ a la ‘Come On’ style at the end. Yet again it is Nick McCabe and his guitar that leaves me breathless. It’s all there, hard and distorted power chords, screaming high notes with multiple effects, and a full on ‘freak out’ to close...my God, prepare the mosh pit!
When The Verve next tour this is going to be one of those tracks that will have the lighters out but may also cause the odd emotional tear to pour. It’s a beautiful track, again with some beautiful effects (like the slight ‘backwards’ effect on Richard’s vocal line) and whilst the verses swoop and swirl around the chorus delivers anthemic undertones once more which will please the Urban Hymns pick-up. Layered vocals create a musical orgasm which I have felt many times with The Verve – in particular to Lucky Man – so Valium Skies gets the ultimate plaudit, as, for me, this was the greatest track from the fore-mentioned album.
‘A Storm In Heaven’ brought about the best of The Verve’s reputation for writing psychedelic, shoe-gaze music with trance inducing bass lines and sounds from Nick’s guitar that you wouldn’t think possible. In Columbo we return to those hallucinogenic days with a track that defines The Verve perfectly. Lyrically it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album – lyrics describing ‘Pain – a bulletproof bathroom. Inside she’s fixing up’ shows Ashcroft’s songwriting genius at its best and once more we are witness to Nick McCabe’s power at making his guitar virtually sing. A dark, brooding bass line and Pete’s snare laden drum pattern create what is one of the album’s best tracks.
The perfect ending to one of the best albums in a decade. Appalachian Springs is a sure-fire hit and will be welcomed by the full range of Verve fans. It features one of those choruses that will well emotion from the most hardened of us. Richard Ashcroft is the highlight of the track – the full range of his vocal ability being tested to the max. But do not be fooled into thinking it is all the track has – four men in perfect musical harmony, all at the top of their game, creating a masterpiece. Others have enthused – many more will after hearing this work.
The album is released in the UK on 25th August and 26th August in the US. I can say no more than this; if there is one album that should be bought this year it is Forth. To not have it in your music collection would be like Britney Spears getting custody of her kids – a tragedy waiting to happen!
I would like to close by thanking Jazz Summers and all at Big Life for giving me the opportunity to review this amazing album. Finally, I would like to thank my girlfriend, Clare, for encouraging me to ask in the first place – you’re a true inspiration princess.