Friday, September 12, 2008
"Will those feet in modern times
Walk on soles that are made in China?"
So asks The Verve's vocalist Richard Ashcroft in the standout track "Love Is Noise" from the band's new CD, "Forth".
Released on what appears to be the band's own label, On Your Own Records, "Forth" is the first proper album by The Verve since 1997 (if you don't count their "best of" CD, "This Is Music: The Singles 1992-98", released in 2004).
What happens to a band when it dissolves at the top of its game (as The Verve did after 1997's masterpiece "Urban Hymns") then doesn't reunite to release new material for over ten years? Sometimes the results can be abysmal, but sometimes it can be inspiring. The latter is the case with the wondrous "Forth".
At times it sounds like The Verve never left, because there is a comfort zone for Verve fans in much of this new disc. There may not be any "Bittersweet Symphony", "Slide Away", "Blue" or "Weeping Willow" on "Forth", but there are electric neo-psychedelic tracks such as "Noise Epic" and "Columbo" and prettier tunes like "I See Houses" and "Valium Skies". But along with the kinds of things we fans would expect to hear from The Verve there are some new things to behold.
Richard Ashcroft still writes songs about life, love and loss. He is still in amazingly good voice, if not actually better than he has ever been, if that is possible. Nick McCabe has not missed a beat with his highly-crafted guitar sounds; he still has a knack not just for creating intriguing sounds and textures, but for knowing why they must be created to make each song work. Simon Jones' bass lines still plod, gallop and weave their way through every song, and drummer Pete Sailsbury's steady hands and feet drive the band each and every way.
What is different here from past Verve efforts is in the song structures. For those of us who have been fans of The Verve for the last decade or more, who would have expected a tune with an uptempo dance beat and highly polished vocals? "Love Is Noise" is fantastic. When I hear this song, I realize it is one of the most incredible-sounding things I have heard in a long time. This one drives. It starts off with some chord changes that might have serious music listeners thinking "What in hell are they doing here?" About 1-2 mintues into the song, it suddenly falls together and makes frightening sense. Frightening as in awesome, in that these guys are modern rock and roll gods when they want to be.
Not only will you hear the band playing with less of a wall of sound and with smarter, intricate arrangements, you will also hear marked tempo changes within songs. You will also hear more keyboard sounds present in the mix. The Verve has always been a bit experimental, a band on a journey, their sound maybe not quite portraying a feeling of completion or of place. This time around, they have matured. It's kind of like a good wine that has aged a bit, and the aging process has helped the finer aspects of the flavor to stand out.
I doubt that The Verve released "Forth" to prove anything. I think it is because they may believe that as a band they add up to way more than just a collection of individuals, and this is some of their finest expression; they still have plenty in their tank, and they want to share it with their fans. As a group they still swerve, drop, grind, and whirl through sludgy psychedelic landscapes as well as they finesse their way through beautiful tunes such as the remarkable album-closing ballad "Appalachian Springs".
The CD art, outside and in, contains some gorgeous pictures of clouds taken from above. The visuals describe the auditory: an above-the-clouds experience.
The Verve tend to be an acquired taste for some listeners. At times they can sound harsh and brutal; at other times they sound heartbreaking, tender, beautiful. Their body of work has covered a wide range of emotions withing an infinite range of evocative sounds. If you are a first-time listener, give the disc a few listens and allow yourself the chance to be drawn in by it. If you are a Verve fan already? Kick back and enjoy!
There has been a lot of good music released in 2008. Radiohead released what could be seen as a comeback of sorts with "In Rainbows". Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" is very, very good, and so is M83's "Saturdays=Youth". REM made a trimpuhant return to form with "Accelerate". Fleet Foxes have burst onto the scene as a sort of CSN&Y or Byrds for the 21st century. Some under-the-radar bands have released excellent CDs this year too, as with "Rook" by Shearwater, The Ruby Suns' "Sea Lion" and Elbow's "The Seldom Seen Kid". The Black Angels have followed up their wonderfully dark "Passover" with the equally psychedelic "Directions to See a Ghost", and Mark Kozelek's band Sun Kil Moon's "April" is one of the more naked albums I hvae heard in years.
Those are all great recordings... but for my money and for 2008, my "album of the year", so far, could well be "Forth" by The Verve.
I can't say how great it is to have them back!