There was a time back in the mid nineties when The Verve were, for a shimmering year or two, quite simply huge. Formed in Greater Manchester in 1989 they shot to prominence with a heady blend ranging between psychedelic and Britpop. A pair of highly rated albums, 1993’s A Storm In Heaven and Northern Soul, two years later, underlined all that early promise.
Then internal disputes, health problems, and legal lawsuits derailed them and led to their first split. By 1997 the band had got it back together and released perhaps their best known album Urban Hymns which included the hit single “Bitter Sweet Symphony”.
However, the success of that song led to a lengthy and expensive lawsuit surrounding a dispute with the management of the Rolling Stones over the use of the loop that formed its basis. Also on that album was the magnificent “The Drugs Don’t Work” which contains possibly one of the saddest lines written, ‘like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown’. Another split came in 1999 and the band went their separate ways working on various solo projects.
Last summer they announced that they would be re-forming, touring and releasing an album. Despite a gap of fifteen years since their first release, this announcement resulted in the initial tour dates being sold out in minutes. Now here it is, Forth, which is, of course, their fourth studio album. The album has shot to the top within a week of its release in the UK. Meanwhile The Verve (they added ‘The’ following another legal wrangle in the 90s) have also toured America, Europe and Japan.
This time there is no Simon Tong and The Verve consist of the original line-up of Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bass player Simon Jones, and drummer Peter Salisbury. Forth contains enough trademark Verve lifts and choruses to justify this rabid interest in their re-appearance. At the Glastonbury Festival this year their return was greeted with a huge wave of tangible excitement.
In “Love Is Noise” they have come up with a hugely addictive, disco infused hook that reels you in within seconds. It is how the band as a whole perform that has always been the fascinating thing about The Verve. Ashcroft, once again reveals the poet within him, with his nod to William Blake’s Jerusalem on “Love Is Noise”. However here he places ‘those feet’ in 'modern times walking on soles made in China'. McCabe offers his swirling meandering explorations that ride above the trancelike rhythm created by Jones and Salisbury. “Love Is Noise” is a Glastonbury anthem of dramatic excellence.
Opening with “Sit And Wonder” all those individual elements come back together to shine a laser on the fact that The Verve have returned. Following "Love Is Noise", “Rather Be” brings us back down nicely. It is a track that has Ashcroft’s distinctive voice in great form. In fact, it is the strength of his vocals throughout Forth that is one of its most powerful reminders of why this band are so highly regarded.
Other standouts include the light, breezy “Judas”, the downbeat “Numbness”, a superb “Valium Skies”, and the swirling eight minute “Noise Epic”. It ends strongly with the highly memorable “Appalachian Springs”. The excitement of hearing those four elements back together on tracks of this strength should deter any sense of anti-climax.
The Verve are back with an album that can sit proudly next to their earlier shimmering moments of the past. Let’s hope Forth opens a door to a fifth.