By John Murphy
Posted 10/14/08 at 12:50 AM
Yes, it’s The Verve’s fourth album, Forth. A bad pun is a suspicious beginning for an album with philosophical pretensions, especially since the word “forth” suggests a progression, when Forth is more like a reminder: “Remember us? We’re The Verve. We used to make epic Britpop. We still do.”
The clouds part on the cover of the album and rays of heavenly light shine out, but what we get is not the Voice of God but the voice of Richard Ashcroft, who often seems to confuse the two. He is The Verve’s lead-singer and songwriter, and he merits our indulgence because he is a genuine seeker. He wonders about things like life and love and the nature of being, but his search never seems to lead him past the vague ideas those words inadequately express. It’s like saying you’ve been to Germany because you looked at it on Google Earth. The result is lyrics like:
Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I’m singing again
I’d rather be here than anywhere
Is there anywhere better than here?
I know these feelings I’ve found
They are oh so rare
These lyrics mean nothing by trying to mean everything. Lyrics do not have to be meaningful to be effective (“I am the Walrus,” anyone?), but it’s nice to think that even the most opaque lyrics have some meaning to the songwriter. My guess is that Ashcroft uses a Verve software program to recombine familiar Verve lyrics and themes: dreams, feelings, answers, drugs, God, tears, seeking, and soul. Add reverb to the vocals and huge washes of guitar, then hit ‘repeat.’ This formula has yielded some undeniably great tunes (“Sonnet” from Urban Hymns, or “New Decade” from A Northern Soul), and the band rouses itself here for a few psychedelic rockers like “Sit and Wonder” and “Valium Skies,” but the overall effect is numbing rather than enlightening. As Ashcroft sings, “I get this feeling that I, I’ve been here before.”
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