The Verve

On Your Own, 2008

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Grandeur in rock is simultaneously an admirable and loathed quality. For every U2 fan, there’s a detractor. For everyone who loves the big sound and emotion of Pearl Jam’s Ten, there’s someone who prefers Pavement’s Slanted And Enchanted. Coldplay can fill stadiums with sound and fans, but then there are those who would rather be caught dead clutching their Bon Iver CDs than admit they kind of like “Paradise.”

So when the Verve reunited after 11 years, there was a built-in audience of haters ready to pounce. The Verve, you may recall, split in 1997 at the end of the Britpop/alt-rock movement just as the soaring “Bittersweet Symphony” sailed to the top of the charts. The band never had a chance to follow through on that song’s success, and even if the album wasn’t as good as A Northern Soul, it showed that the guys were worthy of their place in the Blur/Oasis/Pulp/Suede quartet of Britpop Classics.

Forth, the band’s fourth album (get it?) more or less picks up where the band left off, although there’s a definite modernization of sound and a slight maturity in lyrics and songwriting. But make no mistake, this is still a grandiose disc, full of long songs, big sound and a dash of ego. It’s a bit out of place in 2008, which is why some critics slagged it, but about half the songs rank with the band’s best work and are worth hearing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Sit And Wonder” is the essential album opener, a grand, immense song with conviction, but it’s on “Love Is Noise” that the prospects for this reunion begin to take shape. Rather than expound on themes presented a decade ago, the song brings together Depeche Mode and Maroon 5 in a way nobody has thought of yet, those twitchy “uh oh” falsettos and pulsating beat driving the song and showcasing a path forward for Richard Ashcroft instead of whatever he had been doing on his lackluster solo albums.

“Rather Be” is spacious and grand with a slight Dylan delivery to the lyrics, but it doesn’t leave much of a mark besides an impressive sound. “Judas” fares better, a melancholy acoustic number with a heartfelt sound and some good Stone Roses-ish background guitar trills. Pity the lyrics don’t keep pace; it’s almost never a good idea for a grown man to start a song by whining “Feelings” into the microphone.

The songs are all midtempo, deliberate works that serve to call attention to their construction and layers, but it’s usually more in service to the song than an excuse to pile on sound, the way Oasis’ Be Here Now was. When the song itself is mediocre, as “Rather Be” and “I See Houses,” the results seem excessive, but when everything comes together, it works well. Some may be divided about “Numbness,” for example, as its central themes could probably have been cut short by a minute or two, but it’s actually a very effective piece of Pink Floyd-inspired trip-rock, using “Breathe” as a starting point for something spacious and absorbing.

“Noise Epic” sums up both the good and bad about this disc. A long, portentous introduction gives way to some inspired playing underneath verses that are spoken and barely audible, and then about five minutes in the song abruptly shifts to a mean punk rocker, complete with Ashcroft yelling against slashing guitar. It’s audacious and fun and doesn’t really make sense. The disc then peters out with “Columbo” and “Appalachian Springs,” two more songs like “Rather Be” that sound good but don’t leave a lasting impression.

Forth is an inspired but not totally necessary comeback from a band that never had a proper goodbye in its brief heyday. I can’t imagine another Verve album after this one, as it pretty much completes the story while bringing the sound current. This is a solid album for fans of the genre, but those expecting a disc full of “Bittersweet Symphony” ought to look elsewhere.

Rating: B-

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