the best of times, the Verve has traveled a rocky path.
Greater Manchester quartet is as renowned for its richly-textured, stadium-size
anthems as it is for its members’ bouts with addiction and each other. The
on-again, off-again act first bid the world farewell following its turbulent, Ecstasy-fueled
recording sessions for 1995’s A Northern Soul. The band resurfaced two years
later with Urban Hymns, the breakthrough that spawned the massive “Bitter Sweet
Symphony,” but legal complications arising from the use of a Rolling Stones
sample forced the Verve to relinquish every cent of the single’s royalties. A
second breakup was announced in ’99 following a tour marred by infighting and
the resignation of guitarist Nick McCabe.
self-destructive drama only makes Forth,
the Verve’s spirited return from a near decade-long hiatus, that much more
surprising. After so many years of relative silence – singer Richard Ashcroft
released a trio of soul-searching solo manifestos, with decidedly mixed results
– the band has rediscovered its muse, producing a solid collection of tightly
structured rockers and keeping its meandering jam-band tendencies to a minimum.
Far from a half-hearted cash grab, Forth
finds Ashcroft’s seductive snarl gloriously intact on “Sit and Wonder,” a moody
slice of bass-driven psychedelia, and “Noise Epic,” a hard-charging,
eight-minute eruption that recalls A Northern Soul’s
that the band has forsaken its penchant for pretty, introspective ballads. "Rather Be," with its uncharacteristically upbeat,
sing-along chorus ("But I'd rather be here than be anywhere/Is there anywhere better than here?") fits the bill. Despite the
trite sentimentality, the track stands out as the album's blissful highlight. And amid rumors that Ashcroft and McCabe are
already back to their quarrelsome ways, its sunny refrain is enough to give fans a glimmer of hope that the Verve's Forth will not be its last.