As for the Verve, the last time they attempted a perfect album—1997’s Urban Hymns—they burned out and split up, catapulting front man Richard Ashcroft to the cheesiest solo career since Mick Jagger’s. It should probably be a relief, then, that the band’s long-overdue follow-up settles for being just good; instead of recycling Hymns’s pop moves, or masquerading as something they should’ve recorded last decade when people still bought CDs, Forth finds England’s once-greatest jam band returning to the free-form psychedelic meandering of their early material. So, no, nothing here sounds like “Bittersweet Symphony.”
Anthemic single “Love Is Noise” aside, most tracks aren’t built neatly around choruses. Reverb-slinging lead guitarist Nick McCabe does a fair amount of spacey noodling, and he’s good enough at it to keep us engaged, at least till the five-minute mark of each track (after that, “Numbness” starts to live up to its billing). Predictably, the best moments—the gorgeous “Rather Be” and “Valium Skies,” namely—happen when shoe-gazery and songwriting intersect.
As is probably clear to anyone who suffered through the hackneyed hippie-isms on Ashcroft’s non-Verve albums (actual song title: “Music Is Power”), he’s never had much luck with his lyrics, and Forth is not without its clunkers (“Will those feet in modern times / Walk on soles that are made in China?” asks “Love Is Noise”). Still, even hippies blunder into useful insights sometimes: “For a dream to happen,” he tells himself on the ballad “Judas,” “You got to let it go.”