At 2005’s Live 8, after describing “Bittersweet Symphony” as the “best song ever written,” Chris Martin introduced the man, the myth and the legend they call Mad Richard as “The best singer in the world.” That singer was Richard Ashcroft.
Ever since the release of that song and the album Urban Hymns, The Verve’s career seemed bittersweet, as if one of the best bands of ’90s Britpop was forgotten. Why is that? When critics and fans talk about the’90s, why do The Verve get overlooked on many top lists? The Verve was one of the best and most influential bands of that decade. But what made The Verve so powerful—the explosive dynamic of Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Peter Salisbury’s—was what eventually broke up the band. The last straw was a post gig bust-up by McCabe and Ashcroft during the subsequent Urban Hymns tour, which led to the disbanding of The Verve.
Although The Verve split on a high note, it seemed like there was still ammunition left in the creative tank from one of the most essential groups to come out of the UK in the last twenty years. And it seemed that even though “Bittersweet Symphony” was their hit crowd favorite, they still didn’t have a rousing live anthem to play at their shows that could lift the crowd into a wild frenzy. Say what you will about “Symphony” it is a classic song but it’s not one that gets you off yr feet at a show.
It seems as though The Verve have finally come up with the ultimate live song to bring their fans to their feet during their electrifying sets, that song being “Love is Noise.” But I’ll admit it; I didn’t really love the “Noise” when I first heard it. In fact, before obtaining my copy of Forth, I thought that The Verve had made another mistake in the vein of the plethora of bands that reunite only to make a sub par album, attempting to regain the glory of their inspiring past. Can you name one band that reunited whose new album was worthy of more than one single spin? Besides James’ Hey Ma which I will be reviewing soon, I couldn’t think of any. Can you name the last classic Rolling Stones album? Steel Wheels? Voodoo Lounge? Bridges to Babylon? A Bigger Bang? Hear what I mean, I rest my case.
Seriously, it took a while to warm up to “Noise.” But then one day I had the opening vocal sample stuck in my head. I went around all that day in our apartment, in the car and at work singing “wooo woooo woooo ooo, ah ah ah ah aha.” I soon realized that “Love is Noise” is the song that The Verve had been waiting to create, a song with the style and substance missing from today’s modern airwaves. It’s classic Verve. Ashcroft’s eternal lyrics are inspired by William Blake’s poem `Jerusalem’ with McCabe’s vintage riffs and the powerful rhythms of Jones and Salisbury made to come alive on stage.
From the opening salvo of “Sit and Wonder,” listening to Forth for the first time is like opening the pages of the book you’ve been waiting to read for the longest time. With each chapter, the anticipation in this mystery becomes a reality. When Ashcroft sings, “give me some light,” this is a sign of the impending trip we are all about to experience.
“Rather Be” continues the magic of a “Lucky Man” with a twist. It’s as if Ashcroft is singing about the volatile conflicts that simmer around the relationships within the band:
“Always livin’ under some vow
Always on the eve of destruction
Make you wanna scream out loud
and as I watch the birds soar”
Ashcroft himself has admitted that the band has never really kissed and made up. The unstable energy may be one of the aspects that led to the creation of Urban Hymns and now this most incredible sound of Forth.
One of my favorites is the aptly titled “Noise Epic.” Who else but Ashcroft can write about God, Jesus, Mother Mary, Georgie Best, Muhammad Ali and Steve McQueen in the same song? You will also find evidence of Ashcroft penning more lyrics reflecting the band’s unstable yet fiery creative fuel as he sings:
“Why did I let you down?
Can I carry that cross for you?
Is there anything I need to know?
Did you let me down?
Why did you let me down?”
You hear this as McCabe, Jones and Salisbury all explode with furious energy behind Ashcroft’s prosaic lyrics. The Verve thrives within the confines of their volatile nature. These are four distinctive people with four different moods, mindsets and ideas about what makes a song shine. Whatever element they use to put all of their energies together is the most perfect example of what makes them simpatico. You can hear it all around Forth; it’s their strength and will one day be the band’s fateful downfall.
You get the feeling that Forth may be the band’s finale hurrah on “Columbo.”
Mad Richard’s lyrical assault on lusting of fame over love is highlighted by McCabe, Jones and Salisbury coming together with Ashcroft’s high pitched calls, united like never before. The way we have always imagined The Verve to shine is vivid as they do on the rhythmic “Columbo” and the introspective finale of “Appalachian Springs” Listen to Ashcroft ask the eternal question: “Does anybody know where we’re really gonna go?” That lyric might just be a hint to where The Verve may be heading. If this is truth, than what a way to go out—Forth is an instant classic.
In fact, from start to finish, I believe as a whole that Forth is the best album of their career. It’s hard to imagine any band to top the incredible brilliance that is Urban Hymns but The Verve has done it. After another much publicized public bust-up on stage between Ashcroft and McCabe, unfortunately, Forth may be the last sounds in the storied legacy that is The Verve.