The Verve’s Forth, review

How time flies…In late September 1997 I had just turned 18 and my best mate bought me The Verve’s Urban Hymns album on CD.
I had bought the hit Bitter Sweet Symphony single on cassette a few months earlier – perhaps the last ever cassette recording I ever purchased, and a few of the future singles on CD as well as the 2 previous albums and an EP – so it was visible to those close that I had finally found *my* favourite British band of the 90s. Which is a little bit strange because I didn’t like (and still don’t like) Britpop and was solely interested in a certain type of American hard rock (thrash metal), but The Verve seemed something different. They probably weren’t too different but the angle I saw them in wasn’t bone-headed or tabloid-y (read Oasis/Blur). And I also related more to Ashcroft than Yorke.

And then that bubble burst, and fast forward through Ashcroft’s unfinished solo career and The Verve are back from their split with a new album about a month before my 29th birthday. I know it’s cliche for folks to say ‘where has time gone?’ but this question wasn’t so glaring in my first 2 decades of life.

Enough about me.

Forth (which is an interesting title because it’s their ‘fourth’ album, and fellow 90’s band Portishead came back with ‘Third’ recently) has met mixed reviews, at least online. I personally like it, a lot. I never liked Urban Hymns apart from the singles and one or two album tracks; the single b-sides for that album were really engaging though, and perhaps familiarsation with early Verve made me want something more psychedlic like A Storm In Heaven (which to this day is my aural paracetamol).
Perhaps the problem with Forth is that it’s a mix between their psychedelic stuff and mainstream stuff. Was it conceieved to kind of sate both types of fans? I don’t know. But I was quite taken aback by The Thaw Session, as I love music of that kind (after The Verve went AWOL I bumped into Mogwai – who are even more great swirly guitar magicians, especially at that time.) and expected they’d either do more stuff like that, or more in the vein of Ashcroft’s solo career – which I didn’t follow, not out of dislike but Ashcroft’s voice seemed right with McCabe’s guitar and without that I wasn’t swung.

Those that don’t like Forth may need to listen to it a few times. I heard the album streamed online and then played it a few times on mp3 player (wow, I could only listen to songs on my Discman back the late 90’s!) and I think I get it. It’s not a boombastic or totally dreamy listen and there are parts that are dry and a bit meandering – and Salisbury could be more animated on drums, more toms maybe? – but as an album it does work and I value how the album seemingly isn’t mastered loud – at least I think so – as is the norm to kill the subtle dynamics. It’s a complete listen that is a relaxing, strange journey. And then Love Is Noise on it’s own is a strong single with the ‘a-ha a-ha’ treated loop of Ashcroft’s voice working very well as part of the riff. And best of all they don’t have to pay Jagger/Richards a dime.

Of course, people that don’t like it, well, I can see why you wouldn’t. And I can see why the press would be hard on it as it doesn’t have a king factor about the album, and well, over 10yrs ago these guys had their day. But The Verve realise it’s all about the music (and the words, which are pretty good) now, and that I’m grateful for. I like it.

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