The sad truth is that after years of toiling most groups are remembered for one song. Sure, there are lots of other good to great things they've done, but whenever the group's name comes up it's always in reference to that one song. And they are the lucky ones. For The Verve, the song was "Bittersweet Symphony." Now here's where irony comes in. For The Verve "Bittersweet Symphony" was a bittersweet symphony - one that eventually got ripped from them.
The group formed in '91 and two years later released the hypnotic and haunting "A Storm In Heaven." '95 saw the release of "A Northern Soul." Both albums earned fairly good reviews but the Verve was a long way from commercial success. It didn't help that Richard Ashcroft's reckless, often indulgent behavior, sidetracked the proceedings. Not that he was alone in his excesses. As a result, The Verve disbanded in '95.
Trying to put past missteps behind them, The Verve reunited the following year. "Urban Hymns" proved to be the breakthrough album that had previously eluded the group. The lead track, "Bittersweet Symphony," was a worldwide smash. That's when the story switched to '66.
Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones' manager/producer/main fixer, came up with an idea to enhance his charges publishing royalties. He recorded an instrumental easy listening LP of Stones songs. This misbegotten project's only apparent benefit was providing a few days employment for London horn and string players. Among the tunes covered was "The Last Time."
Fast forward thirty years. Hip-Hop/Rap acts had been lifting, stealing and otherwise sampling Rock, R&B and Jazz tracks for a decade with impunity, so who would notice or care if The Verve purloined the strings from "The Last Time" and grafted them on to their song? Turns out, Oldham did. He sued and gained 100% of the song's royalties. Then to add insult to injury, he licensed the song for commercials. The Verve never recovered. Soon internal feuds and solo projects took precedence. But it would be a shame to end such a promising band's career on such a sour note. The Verve must have felt so too.
In '07 a reunion was announced. "We are getting back together for the joy of music," said a press release. To give credit where credit is due, Peter Salisbury was the catalyst bringing The Verve back to life. He was working on a side project with Nick McCabe. Ashcroft learned of this and used it as an excuse to contact McCabe. Ashcroft settled differences with McCabe and Simon Jones. However, Simon Tong decided to stay with The Good, The Bad And The Queen and not participate.
The Verve toured through early '08 and released their comeback album "Forth" that summer. The set contained the single "Love Is Noise."
"Bittersweet Symphony" is atypical of The Verve. It's not that the slow tempo or the use of strings is unique, both are employed in other tracks. Rather, the lifted string arrangement gives the song a focus missing from numerous Verve recordings. The Verve utilize just about every studio technique including reverb/echo, phasing, mix-downs and vocal/audio processing to create an ambient din. The sound is similar to their contemporary, Oasis, but without the pop sensibilities.
On "A Northern Soul" the group cleans up the production bringing the vocals and guitar forward in the mix. The "A New Decade," "This Is Music" and the acoustic ballad "On Your Own" both sound better and are better than the material from the debut, "Storm In Heaven." So it's odd the group reverts to its initial approach for "Urban Hymns." "Bittersweet Symphony" aside, the album drifts through the noisy "The Rolling People" and the aptly titled "Space And Time." Amid the swirl only "Lucky Man" and the acoustic ballad lament, "The Drugs Don't Work," are memorable.
The Verve's highly anticipated return finds the band treading on Radiohead's turf. They are ethereal but coherent on "Forth." There are atmospheric touches provided by McCabe's "crying' guitar while Ashcroft gives his vocals an urgent yet controlled delivery. A solid rhythm laid down by Salisbury and Jones keeps the songs afloat.
Like "Bittersweet Symphony" on "Urban Hymes," the single, "Love Is Noise" is not indicative of "Forth." The appealing '80s Wave/Acid Dance pop song, complete with synth strings (no doubt original), is the album's liveliest moment. "Rather Be" has Ashcroft trying out a Dylan drawl to good effect. But with the exception of set closer "Appalachian Springs" the slower songs are a bit of a challenge.