Ever since Richard Ashcroft flashed us his impressive cheekbones along with “Sit And Wonder” during the Verve’s Coachella set, there’s been a pretty steady flow of material from the band’s forthcoming comeback album Forth. Just yesterday we debuted “I See Houses,” along with its age old questions (“How many lives will I waste / how many tears will I taste / before my freedom?”) and airy, psychedelic sound. Before that, we grew acquainted with the more upbeat, loopy, and exciting standout “Love Is Noise,” which shows up right after the aforementioned “Sit And Wonder” on the album. The pair makes a fairly explosive impression, but then the Verve fall down and can’t get up.
Ashcroft on a mellow tip isn’t a bad thing. Ashcroft on a sluggish tip is a boring thing. It’s the Verve’s first new material since reforming a year ago, their first official release since 1997’s Urban Hymns, so a bit of rust should be expected. But some of these songs don’t move enough to shake anything off, except for insomnia. To be fair, maybe we should be knee-deep in pot while we’re listening: “Rather Be” doesn’t do much to justify its existence, but its piano-lined gospel-tinged backup vocals have a certain appeal. And you shouldn’t be too hard on “Judas,” considering it has the awesomely cheesy line “a latte double shot for Judas” in it. Right?
Throughout, Nick McCabe’s guitar washes are gorgeous, too. Well, except on “Numbness,” a vaguely bluesy or lounge-y bit that will induce numbness. From there, we go to “I See Houses” and its ponderous ruminations on seeing blood red sunsets. “I See Houses” (and dead people) is followed by “Noise Epic,” which isn’t especially noisy, though it is epic, ending on a bit of a shred, after minutes of oscillating yawns. The last minute and a half? More of that, Richard, more of that: “I got spirrrittttttt.” He does. But you don’t see it very often on Forth.
Considering all the dull patches in tandem with the actually exciting moments like the aforementioned static-y end of “Noise Epic,” it’s strange something like the straight-up “Mover” or the appealing dub-y “Love Is Noise” b-side “Chic Dub” weren’t included.
“Valium Skies” works as inspirational bittersweet love ballad (“When it comes to my Valium skies, she don’t mind if I cry”), but the big question: What is a Valium sky exactly? What does that even mean? Is it like Vanilla Sky? So, he’s crying about his Valium skies, but doesn’t Valium numb you? (Note: The cover seemingly depicts the Valium skies…) Anyway, as far as the rest of the album goes, the noodling “Columbo” is a half-cooked ramble until it finds itself after the 4-minute mark. “Appalachian Springs” closes out the proceedings with an escalating 7-minute ballad that somehow includes 69 and stepping to the let and the right … right, hokey and pokey.
Experimentation is (more than) welcome, but Forth seems to conflate meandering with getting somewhere. Too many songs are needlessly long, failing to tap into anything other than your free time. The Verve still exhibit some verve, moments that can bring up the ol’ goosebumps, but these are too few and far between.
Maybe you should just hold out for the new Oasis.
Forth is out on the Verve’s own On Our Own 8/26 in the US via Megaforce/RED and internationally 8/25 via EMI.