The Verve reformed

19th August 2008 – 7.21 am

The Verve are back. Again. This could be an exciting time, as I remember The Verve from all those years ago, before the jazz record label forced the band to change their name to avoid potential confusion, hence the definite article being added. I remember listening to the extended version of She's a Superstar where the song continues long past the in-comparison disappointing radio edit, with soaring guitars creating beautiful music that is just as amazing to listen to today as it was then. The debut album, A Storm in Heaven, mixed together songs that were both fragile and strong, offering gentle breezes before conjuring up thunder, and was a critical success despite not including their first few single releases.

The second album, just as pretentiously titled as A Northern Soul, saw The Verve grow. The same mix of songs was present, but somehow they all had more weight behind them. It looked like The Verve were going to be The Next Big Thing, until the announcement that they were splitting up, shortly before they released their final single entitled, poetically enough, History. From what I remember, there were tensions between singer Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe.

That The Verve reformed was good news, that they stayed together for just one more album was disappointing. Urban Hymns adds to the pretentious album names, as well as to their impressive body of work. Overall, the third album seemed more superficial than their previous work, relying on heavy-handed lyrics more than metaphor, although there are some gems to be found outside of the singles. The Verve split again, this time it must surely have been for good, after having tried a reconciliation album.

Richard Ashcroft turned solo after Urban Hymns, and it led to much chart success. However, whilst the songs kept a certain lyrical quality they were lacking in musical direction, ending up being terribly middle-of-the-road. Without the rest of the The Verve behind him, Ashcroft was just another solo artist. Yet he was popular, and understandably so. He fronted The Verve for many years, he was the man everyone associated with the band, particularly with the memorable and copied video for Bitter Sweet Symphony, the band's big comeback single after the first split.

People remember the vocalist more, the man at the front of the stage, the man with the focus for most of the song. They get most of the attention, from fans and media alike, and it takes a huge personality for a non-singing musician to get much recognition. For example, Graham Coxon may have enjoyed some critical and musical success after leaving Blur, but hasn't got anything like the attention Damon Albarn recevies with each of his projects, and it seems to be less to do with talent and mostly because Albarn is more widely recognisable. Such as it is for Richard Ashcroft.

Even with Ashcroft enjoying success through mediocrity I was quite looking forward to The Verve reforming, because of Nick McCabe's ability to create wonderful music with his guitars. I still listen to The Verve on occasion, all the way back to All in the Mind, and it is the music that keeps me coming back. I admit that I focus mostly on the guitars, but I certainly appreciate how all of the band create a fuller, richer sound together. I was optimistic about hearing new McCabe music.

I heard a song on the radio a couple of weeks back, and it had a catchy-sounding sample looping through it. I admit, I quite liked it to start with, but then the loop continued throughout the song, and not just here and there but for the whole song, without pause or change. By the end I was sick of that loop and, by association, the song, and I hoped I wouldn't have to hear it again. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I heard it again, and again the loop sounded interesting to start with but quickly irritated because of its constant use. It was perhaps fortunate that I heard the song again because this second time I also heard it being attributed to The Verve, and that it was their new single Love is Noise. What a disaster.

The loop in the song isn't bad in itself. Like I wrote above, it is quite catchy. The problem is that it is clearly overused. There are no breaks in the song where the loop isn't heard, no changes to how the loop is used or the loop itself, it just repeats and repeats from the start of the song until the end. It becomes tedium itself. Even in musical genres like dance, electronica, and Krautrock, where repetition is key, it is understood that changes and breaks are what contribute to the repetition succeeding. In all kinds of artistic endeavour the blank form, including silence, is known to be able to enhance a work. And yet a band that has created some astonishingly subtle songs releases a horridly naive single, lacking any delicate or sophisticated touches.

It is possible that Love is Noise is the weak link of all the new songs penned by The Verve, but with it being released as the first single in ten years it seems unlikely that they would willingly choose anything but their strongest song with which to grab everyone's attention. Perhaps it was too much to hope for The Verve to be great again. Richard Ashcroft has enjoyed a huge solo career, larger than anything The Verve achieved, and the attention is unsurprisingly more on him than on the band as a whole. When the band are credited by DJs as 'Richard Ashcroft and The Verve' it becomes clear that we are no longer in the presence of The Verve as they were, but Richard Ashcroft's band.

As much as I was looking forward to hearing McCabe's wonderful guitars I will not be rushing out to buy the new album, although I will listen for further singles to see if the quality of music improves. At the least, I can hope that Ashcroft's MoR career gets a boost from having better musicians behind him, for the unfortunate times when I hear him on the radio. In the meantime I notice that both Stereolab and Dandy Warhols have new albums out now, two bands that have yet to disappoint, offering me a much better opportunity to experience new music from established bands than The Verve currently promises.

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