While not as well-known to us Yanks as other Brits, The Verve has been churning out dreamy soundscapes since'89. Fronted by lead vocalist Richard Ashcroft and driven by guitarist Nick McCabe, the quartet has cultivated a reputation for embracing experimentation, both musically and pharmaceutically. The latter led to a collection of break-ups and personnel shifts, solo projects and strained reunions. This, the third act in the drama-Verve, ushers in the first new material from the original lineup since `97's critical and commercial success, Urban Hymns.
While the often-times adversarial relationship between Ashcroft and McCabe, along with the requisite drug abuse and break-ups, could be easily passed off as rock & roll cliché, The Verve, however, should not. Ashcroft, assertively sporting a self-assigned personality cult, has absorbed a fair amount of lashing from fans and critics alike for being a right prat, while drawing equal amounts of credit and admiration from the very same crowd. McCabe, if given a free pass for his penchant to ingest any volume of mind-altering chemicals, could easily be regarded as the most talented and innovative guitarist to emerge since The Edge. This mix has produced sublime results over the years.
Forth, their newest offering in more than a decade, sees The Verve not reinventing their formula, but revisiting it. Ashcroft's solo stint may have enjoyed the loyalty of Verve fans and critics past, but clearly lacked the impact of McCabe's remarkable gifts. Forth shines a light on each artist's compliment to the other; one's munchies to the other's spliff, if you will. They may get on like cats in a sack at times, but the results can be magnificent. Forth hardly qualifies as their best work, but is certainly emblematic of both their group dynamic and their collective talent as an outfit. At their best, they are brilliant; at their worst, they're still better than most.
Bottom line: if you're a fan, you'll buy it anyhow. If not, start from the first release and work your way through. It's quite a trip.