If it doesn’t exactly have the tempo, energy or swagger to shake off 11 years’ worth of rust, Forth, the first studio album for the reunited Verve since 1997’s Urban Hymns, is nonetheless a welcome comeback and finds the band’s original lineup picking up almost exactly where they left off. That makes for an album of swirling, psychedelia-meets-shoegaze guitar-pop: There’s nothing really contemporary about Forth, but that gives it a certain retro-minded charm that carries it through some weaker moments. Given how uneven frontman Richard Ashcroft’s solo albums were, it isn’t a surprise that the songwriting here isn’t as sharp as on A Northern Soul or Urban Hymns. Lead single “Love Is Noise” is the closest the record comes to a conventional hook or standard pop-song structure, though tracks like “Rather Be” and “I See Houses” eventually resolve into soaring refrains. But it’s easy to forgive some of Ashcroft’s drippier lines (“She said, ‘a latte double-shot for Judas’” on “Judas” is the most unintentionally hilarious, though there’s also a campiness to the way Ashcroft sneers, “I got spirit” near the end of “Noise Epic”) when they’re set against Nick McCabe’s characteristically spacious guitar washes. Ultimately, it’s McCabe’s contributions that keep most of the tracks (though there’s really no saving the aptly named, comatose “Numbness”) from seeming bloated and aimless as they stretch well past the five-minute mark. While Forth is certainly flawed and overreaching, there’s enough to suggest that the Verve, assuming they’re able to keep it together, can use the album as a foundation for something as compelling as their ‘90s output.
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