The Verve, 'Forth' (On Your Own/Megaforce)

Critical Mass
Label: On Your Own/Megaforce

by Mikael Wood

"There's no need for introductions," Richard Ashcroft announces in "Rather Be," a song from the Verve's first album in more than a decade. And that much is true: though the U.K. scene has changed dramatically since they last ruled -- consider the applause Jay-Z earned by covering Oasis' "Wonderwall" at Glastonbury -- Ashcroft and his bandmates continue the mission they abandoned on 1997's Urban Hymns, wedding classic-rock swagger to dream-pop swoon in ten instantly recognizable tracks of self-important psychedelia. Clearly, the Ting Tings have not won the battle against bloat.

Of course, if your formula once worked well enough to yield a tune as indelible as "Bitter Sweet Symphony," why mess with (potential) success? Indeed, much of Forth makes a strong case for the continued vitality of big-tent guitar anthems: On "Love Is Noise," Ashcroft bemoans our modern times over a sleekly propulsive dance-rock groove the Killers would kill for, while guitarist Nick McCabe sets "Judas" adrift in a sea of shimmering reverb. Unsurprisingly, given the hit-or-miss quality of Ashcroft's white-soul solo albums, a few of the ballads meander. (You can't say "Valium Skies" didn't warn you.) But six minutes into the longest cut -- helpfully titled "Noise epic" -- McCabe detonates a Stooges-style boogie-punk bomb that could get any football hooligan's fist pumping. Are the Verve back? Maybe. Definitely.



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