Sometimes being in love with music is almost as painful as being in love with someone you can’t be with and can’t be without. The ups and downs can be nearly as affecting. When the Verve, one of my favorite bands ever, announced they were getting back together, playing Coachella and writing songs for a new album, I was fit to burst with excitement. The last we’d heard out of them was the This Is Music greatest hits and some filler back in 2004. If the clean swagger of “Monte Carlo” and the shiny peppiness of “This Could Be My Moment” were anything to go by, though, the band was still clearly moving away from its early fuzzy swirling sound. But at Coachella, the new songs were ferocious and gritty, loud and full of Richard Ashcroft’s infectious passion and Nick McCabe’s monstrous chops. It seemed to bode well.
So my disappointment in Forth was right up there with an anticipated first kiss being so sloppy or a fight that keeps on fighting. I’d hoped the band would still sound like the Verve, only with a sound that’s pushed further. But I was almost not convinced this is even a Verve record.
Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand, even U2 make sonic footprints here. Some of the songs could have sat nicely on Ashcroft’s 2006 solo record, Keys to the World, so at least we know Richard was in on it. But for Verve not to foreground Nick McCabe’s distinctive, gorgeous, life-affirming guitar is heartbreaking. Much as Ashcroft might be the voice of the Verve and the public face of the band, it’s McCabe’s guitar that set them apart from the crowd. It’s near absence is a musical injustice. Forth is slick guitar pop that is about as far removed from the psychedelic wonderland A Storm in Heaven (1993) as the likeliness of Conor Oberst playing a benefit concert for John McCain.
“Valium Skies” at least uses a bit of the original Verve formula — at least McCabe’s guitar can sweep in and remind us that he is indeed there, if only for a fleeting moment. The tracks on Forth are long and often overproduced. It’s a tough blow to handle when a band you’ve loved for so long comes up so short.