Having posted a couple of times in the past on the reunion and all, it behooves me to say something on Forth, which got its formal release this week (I think — release dates are all incredibly fluid in my mind, a combination of the conquest of the Net model and the fact that I get so many promos well in advance these days).
Admittedly yesterday was either just the right way to hear it or the worst way possible — flat on my back on my couch after having come home from work and feeling a miserable pinched nerve or something in my right hip. (Better now, thankfully.) That plus feeling very tired meant that I was drifting in and out of dozing during my first listen, but hey, I’m not formally reviewing this one, and sometimes you just want to absorb something as you do.
What I remember from the first few songs was the clear impression that this wasn’t a Verve album but a Richard Ashcroft solo album backed by Verve. Which arguably was the case with Urban Hymns, but here everything felt a little more formal, maybe too formal. If you look back on UH from eleven years distance (eleven years!), it’s actually a varied album within its particular scope — songs like “Chasing the Butterfly,” “Neon Wilderness” and “Velvet Morning” don’t have much immediate resemblance to each other or to the big hit singles either.
Here, in contrast, everything felt a lot more focused and point-by-point, and tended to resemble each other from what I foggily recall. I think it was friend Stripey who said to me that this would be Simon’s album more than anyone else’s and I think she got it right, since there seemed to be a clear sense of his bass as anchor throughout, over which Richard and Nick did their respective things. Enjoyable but at the same time a little flattening.
That said, the end of the album found the wings being stretched more by everyone, and while I did my fair share of mistaking lyrics (I kinda hoped “Valium Skies” was actually called “Valley and Sky,” which seems very early Verveish), it reminded me of nothing so much as the Chameleons’ reunion album a few years back, where while they weren’t THE CHAMELEONS in their classic overdrive sense most of the time, they had found a new balanced point to meet at that suited everyone well. (Similar could be said of Crispy Ambulance or For Against’s reunions…heck, this has just been a good decade for bands coming back that keep a sense of time and expectations in place.)
I’ll need to hear it more of course, and doubtless I will. Over on ILM Marcello snarkily noted “I understand the notion of long-term loyalty to an artist even when the records are crap” (though he then went on to invoke the Game as a positive counterexample, and I couldn’t imagine a more tedious wannabe at this point in any genre), but given diminished expectations — this was never going to be A Storm in Heaven and Richard still thinks of himself as some sort of prophet/myth figure, somehow — I’ll still take it. But I’ll take a proper LA appearance that isn’t part of the Coachella machine more, thanks, so if you guys could come back…