The Verve: Forth

The Verve's long-awaited return is a return to form with Forth.

The Verve


Label: Parlophone
US Release Date: 2008-08-26
UK Release Date: 2008-08-25

The Verve already had a breakup and reformation under its belt 11 years ago when the breakthrough album Urban Hymns was released. Critically lauded, as well as popularly acclaimed on the strength of singles "Bittersweet Symphony" and "The Drugs Don't Work", Urban Hymns, and the pressures of the touring that followed it, unfortunately led to a second, and seemingly final, disbandment.

Then, after a decade of solo work and other projects, the original line up -- singer Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Peter Salisbury -- reunited last year, "…for the joy of music". After scheduling six sold out shows for November 2007, the band revealed its first new music in a decade. With their return so well-received, members continued touring into 2008, headlining some of the biggest venues and hitting many festivals, including Coachella last April and Glastonbury in June.

Having already worked fans and the press into quite a lather with those and several other stunning live shows, the Verve then caused a full-force frenzy by presenting a non-album teaser track called "Mover" -- a well-known, but previously unreleased, live favorite from the mid-'90s -- as a free download in July quickly followed by a multi-version single of Forth's "Love Is Noise". It seems the Verve has a knack for how best to maximize the benefits of the rapidly-evolving digital arena. In fact, the band has a knack for minimizing digital-age detriments too. When the record leaked two weeks before the street date, it was immediately posted, in its entirety, on MySpace as a free stream.

And now, comes Forth.

It might be assumed that the album's title is a play on the fact that, despite being almost 20 years after the band began, this is only its fourth full-length. But the name could also be an imperative, a command, a rallying cry as in "Go Forth and Conquer!" as I'm sure the Verve intends to do. And, as befits a long awaited, highly anticipated release from a band of near-mythic status, possessing obvious savvy and a flawless marketing campaign, Forth is available in three different formats. The original CD includes 10 of 12 tracks recorded last year in London. The double heavyweight gatefold vinyl edition exclusively features the other two, "Ma Ma Soul" and "Muhammad Ali", and comes with an exclusive case bound tour book. The Special Edition box set is apparently only attainable through the Verve's online store and contains the original CD and a DVD with five songs from the band's glorious live set at Coachella, as well as a documentary called Space and Time, packaged in the collectible case bound tour book. Additionally, each version of Forth includes a code for instant download of "Love Is Noise" recorded live at Glastonbury. Other digital downloads of exclusive live Glastonbury tracks are available, and vary depending on point of purchase.

But is it worth it? If the early buzz and fan expectation prove to be any indication, Forth certainly seems poised to prevail. Of course, although it helps, marketing doesn't always make an album, it's the songs that matter most for a band like this.

In "Sit and Wonder" McCabe's arabesque guitar work revolves around hypnotic rhythms and weaves in, out, behind and between Ashcroft's voice, which is riveting as he repeats the one line chorus, "Yeah give me some light, give me the light." He very well could be explaining the road to the band's return, all the while making it sound like a defiant declaration:

The rites of passage

We all must take 'em

And some are going to break in the storm

The door is open

And I am reaching

Yeah it's looking like a prodigal son

If "Sit and Wonder" is the announcement that the Verve has arrived again, "Love Is Noise" is the signal that the party can officially start. "Love is noise / Love is pain / Love is these blues that I'm feeling again / Love is noise / Love is pain / Love is these blues that I'm singing again," says Ashcroft, but no one's blue on this energetic, orchestrally-accented, dare-to-call-it-dance-rock with its "Ooh-hoo, ooh-hoo, ooh-hoo /Ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah" refrain. There's no question why this is the lead single, it has broad appeal without sacrificing any of the elements with which this band is identified. "Rather Be" employs another side of those elements, recalling the music coming out of Manchester in the early '90s. The melody is built on piano, with Ashcroft singing vaguely spiritual, soulful lyrics backed by a chorus of voices, a swirling swell of guitar and strings.

"Judas" is even more ethereal in its instrumentation, but it doesn't have the lift of its predecessor until McCabe's guitars kick in near the end and everything about the song expands. This song also has the distinction of possessing one of Forth's clunkiest lines ("New York I was Judas / She said latte double shot for Judas") along side one of its best lyrics ("For the things to happen, people need to know / And for a dream to happen, you gotta let it go").

"Numbness" is a bluesy, slow-burner that features McCabe channeling David Gilmour as Ashcroft intones about being stoned ("Here comes Mother Nature's Child / Numbness on the brain / Yeah numbness on the brain…"), While some may see the Floyd fealty as a good thing, this track feels a bit out of space and time at this point in the sequence. "I See Houses" pulls out of the smoky haze to slip into a sober daze, but this time it works. The bricks and sunsets are the things that are red, but it's the line of cars that is always black. A somber piano melody builds to a soaring, if solemn, chorus:

I get this feeling that I've

I've been here before

How many lives will I waste?

How many tears must I taste?

Before my freedom?

Death ceases to be the timeless observer as "I See Houses" fades out and Ashcroft sings "Murder, trouble and strife / Turn me into another guy / Don't be late / Don't be late / When I call / When I call / When I call you up." Arresting without being distressing, it's a gorgeous song all around.

"Noise Epic" is exactly that, though not from the outset. It begins rather sparsely, and at more than eight minutes, it's more epic than noise, really. But it builds like nobody's business. Beginning with some sonic snippets and the bare bones of Jones's bass, and eventually adding chunky, chiming guitar, and wails and slashes of sustain against Salisbury's propulsive rhythm. Salisbury's considerable skills are highlighted extensively on this track, particularly during the last three minutes, when the whole song explodes into overdrive. Ashcroft talk-sings most of the lyrics like a beat poet bombing past a blur of countryside while narrating over the scenery of his own inner landscapes. The song downshifts as he asks, "Can I carry that cross for you? / Did you let me down," only to accelerate again as the entire band rushes headlong into frenzy while Ashcroft shouts "I got spirit / We got feeling / You got spirit / Scream if you feel it!" And he does. Then, quite suddenly, "Noise Epic" stops so abruptly it's like aural whiplash. But man, what a ride.

With "Valium Skies," the Verve switches gears again. This a beautiful ballad, flowing in to fill the dramatic void created by the absence of "Noise Epic". "Valium Skies" is also an anthem of sorts. Lush strings, layered vocals and plenty of interesting flourishes may put some listeners in mind of "Bittersweet Symphony", but the only true similarities between the two lie in the grand scopes and heavenly heights of their respective soundscapes.

"Columbo" paints yet another sort of sound scene. Here the band offers an atmospheric thriller, the center of which is Jones's simple, unassailable, descending bass line. It provides a balance point for McCabe's sinister riffs, spine-tingling effects, and Ashcroft's slightly threatening whispery whine, and when the song suddenly switches to a skittering, more noir-ish vibe, it's still the bass that jumps out, like a heartbeat in your throat as you're sneaking from light pools through shadows down a darkened alley.

"Appalachian Springs" is Forth's spacey dénouement. It returns the Verve again to the spacey, cycling, psychedelic sound associated with earlier works, but does so without simply repeating a formula. This not only wraps up the themes of this album, this may be the theme of the album. "I was wondering if we've got that real soul?" Ashcroft muses, "You know the thing we cannot trade or ever own?" I don't think the Verve has to worry about that. Forth may contain a few flaws or forced moments, but it has plenty of soul.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.