Patience is a virtue. Historically, it’s one that’s been in short supply for Wigan rockers The Verve, as a plethora of internal strife and multiple break-ups (the last of which spanned close to 10 years) have befallen them since their inception in 1989.
Consequently, fans have needed it in great abundance, as solo and side projects of varying degrees of success have largely failed to fill the void their separation created.
Cue the comeback: a seemingly ubiquitous route, welcome or otherwise, taken by numerous groups in modern music. It is of critical importance that impulsiveness be avoided for such an endeavor to be successful, as the tendency for a band returning from hiatus to completely reinvent itself, or revert so fully to its old ways that staleness ensues, will likely doom it. Except for a few mis-steps along the way, The Verve do well to avoid these pitfalls on Forth and recapture, as well as build upon, the ethereal Brit rock mastery they had established during the 1990s.
The edgy, brooding opener Sit And Wonder sets the group’s resurgence in the right direction. Everything is bathed in reverb, and the otherworldly guitar licks of Nick McCabe orbit planet Ashcroft, who continues to sulk with lyrics that attempt, but never quite reach, significance. With Depeche Mode-esque synth notes underscoring pleas of “Lord, give me the light,” the band has come out swinging and managed to combine just enough novelty and familiarity to portend a triumphant return.
Unfortunately, off come the wheels as the aforementioned propensity to wholly overhaul style sets Forth back a bit. Love Is Noise, the first single formally released off of the album, is a mess. Ultra-mainstream and overzealously anthemic, the song abandons tradition in favour of a sound more akin to X&Y-era Coldplay and 1980s Madonna (note the bridge’s similarity to Like A Virgin) than an amendment to the group’s dramatic subtlety.
Rather Be is similarly disappointing, albeit gentler, as the band seems to draw inspiration from sugar pop extraordinaires The Feeling. Once again, The Verve are out of their element, and radically reshaping their sound has proven to have diminishing returns.
But note the parallelism of the opening lines of the Love Is Noise chorus and those within the letter First Corinthians. Ashcroft pens “love is noise, love is pain,” while Paul notes “love is patient, love is kind.” The juxtaposition of noise and patience brings to mind the opposing viewpoints of Verve dissenters and proponents, and represents the divergence in perception that one may have of the rest of the album. Provided that the lengthy, intergalactic jam sessions on the remaining tracks are not immediately dismissed as clatter (or clutter), the reward is a rather transcendent musical experience.
They return to Northern Soul form with Judas, in which cosmic guitar runs hover over talk of “feelings” (this time, however, not purchased from a vending machine). Oscillating between just two notes and oozing likeness to Pink Floyd is Numbness, in which even the drums are echoed. McCabe, who starts in space, comes down to Earth for an outro that evokes memories of Chris Isaak‘s Wicked Game. Meanwhile, the haunting triplets of Radiohead‘s In Limbo are emulated on I See Houses. Also of note are the luscious, enveloping beauty of Valium Skies, and the dynamic rhythm of Columbo.
Admittedly, the band’s past catalogue sets the bar high, but Forth is an achievement, especially when considered in the context of so many failed attempts by others to return after a period of inactivity. Patience is key, and is essential to truly appreciate the hypnotic vibe The Verve have brought back to the table.