Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hmmmm - The Verve

I've just been supplied with a copy of Forth by The Verve. Initial thoughts in approximately 70 minutes.

Edit 1
Five tracks in and this is certainly much meatier and more rocking (in a Verve stylee, natch) than any of Ashcrofts risible solo material. However, Ashcroft is still far, far from being the all-time melodicist he evidently thinks he is, and thus the best bits are, as ever, when he shuts up and just lets his band play. "Rather Be" might as well be a solo Ashcroft track, but is about the only one of that ilk so far.

There are LOTS of guitars, but many of them are the tasteful, tricksy, widdling-in-the-wings two-steps-from-George-Michael guitars that infected much of Urban Hymns - presumably because Big Dickie refused to let McCabe along unless he played nice. However, saying that, McCabe does get to let loose at times, which is nice, and there are some long, low-key grooves.

Almost all the songs are 5-6 minutes long; it'll be interesting to see what people make of that in these attention-deficit times.

They should stay away from piano. Most people (in rock) should.

Edit 2
OK "Noise Epic".

Edit 3
Oh dear "Valium Skies".

Edit 4
OK then. What we have here is a big, long, dense, foggy modern rock album. Portentous. Pretentious. Nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Or as talented. Aesthetically, sonically, it's somewhere between A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns - no surprise there, then. More muscular than the latter album, less... psychotic than the former. Despite what some have said, there's not much of A Storm In Heaven about it. It's more balanced than Urban Hymns, or feels it - the second half certainly doesn't fall as far into tepid balladic hell as that did.

Some of the guitar playing is awesome, although I've not yet noticed anything as beautiful as the bent string two and a bit minutes into "Drive You Home" or as brutal as the opening riffs from "A Northern Soul" or "Let The Damage Begin". There's nothing as offensive to my ears as the woeful "Sonnet" (much beloved of rugby-boy footballer-fan date-rapists across the country), although some of the "I wrote these on my own, look at me" ballads get close ("Rather Be", "I See Houses", "Valium Skies"). "Noise Epic" seems pretty glorious, the kind of pumped-up, streaming, unpredictable groove-jam-psychosis I adored about this band when I was 17. (I'm now 29, for reference. I spent the morning listening to 70s Miles Davis.) "Sit & Wonder" is, rubbish title aside, also pretty good. "Columbo" too. It all needs more time, though.

"Love Is Noise" doesn't, though. It sounds like the more muscular tracks off Embrace's last album, only sans McNamara's way with a melody. I do not, and never have, rated Ashcroft as a melodicist. I also don't rate him even 10% as much as he rates himself as a singer. And definitely not a lyricist - especially when he gets a slogan like "valium skies" into his head and thinks he's coined a poetic turn of phrase. Some of his... intensely soulful groans simply make me feel... a little threatened and uncomfortable. That looped vocal sample is still, while nagging and catchy, annoying as all hell. That 4/4 indie-rock-does-muscular-disco bass & drums pulse sounded new and exciting in 2004, perhaps, almost, from a distance, but now... I've had enough of it. It turns up a few times here.

It's not helped by the sonics... I'm only listening on satellites and sub at work, but one can tell straight away, and is reaffirmed by looking at some wave forms via Audacity, that this is pumped up. It's not horrendous, and bits of it (parts of "Noise Epic" for instance) do work some degree of subtlety and excitement into the mix, but... then you get the opening bass notes of "Appalachian Spring". Of course, this may just be down to this copy of the record (on repeat listen, some files, particularly "Appalachian Spring", are just royally fucked up and corrupted - I hope), but even so, the bass sound, the drum sound, is a modern rock bass and drum sound - that big, flowering, pumping bass sound that hurts your head almost on a subconscious level. And isn't actually deep.

I suspect that The Verve think of themselves as elemental - they certainly demonstrate a sneering enough attitude towards the likes of Keane, who they evidently see as beneath them - the problem is that they've confused what elemental means. They think it means big, noisy, bloated, arrogant, a little pompous, crashing and puffing your chest out. It doesn't. Earth, air, fire and water are none of these things. Concrete often is. There's no doubt that what they do is often exciting, maybe moving if you're in the right frame of mind, but... they're not really that far away from the slew of bands who've evolved in their decade-long wake, not that superior to. OK so McCabe streams the shit out of anyone else who touches a guitar in this genre, but Jones and Salisbury don't sound half as unusual to me as they once did. The Verve don't sound half as unusual, as elemental, as meaningful, as exciting to me as they once did.


louis said...


these guys have come back to show all the new kids how to do it, they still sound decades ahead of their time

i mean, at last, some genuinely experimental music in the charts, from the band who truly defined british alt-rock back in the 90's

richard ashcroft is the songwriting genius of our or any time, and his band attain cumulonimbus-shearing lofts of ecstacy the like of which no other randomly-chosen gaggle of musicians could possibly create

(ok seriously i can't keep this up any longer)

SwissToni said...

I listened to "Urban Hymns" the other day out of curiosity. I hadn't listened to it in years. It was still as disappointing as I remember it. You're bang on about them not being anywhere near as good as Ashcroft thinks they are... or at least as much as he says they are. Perhaps he's protesting too much?

Actually, since you brought it up, the only song from that album that I've been earworming this week is "Sonnet". Yeah! I know!

ST fact: the drugs don't work was number one the day I moved to Nottingham and the day Princess Diana died.

I watched Billy Bragg at Glastonbury instead of watching the Verve, and I shan't be bothering with the new album thanks.


mike said...

I can't forgive them their lamentable, wretched, half-assed performance at Nottingham Arena last year. Talk about misplaced arrogance. Unforgiveably awful sound, miserably leaden atmosphere, many walk-outs, and an unprecedented number of subsequent angry comments on our paper's website. It's put me right off even bothering to investigate the new stuff.

Sick Mouthy said...

Oh dear -