If the Stone Roses couldn't be the Stone Roses on their second record, what the hell makes the Verve think they can be here? Well, us. We bought into "Bittersweet Symphony" for its gimmicky strings and followed Richard Ashcroft down his self-important three-chords-over-and-over-and-over solo record, so we're to blame if a band who started as glam shoegazers capable of Rod-Stewart-meets-God rapture 15 years ago have turned into a Black-Crowes-meets-Oasis jam band now. Forth's opener, "Sit and Wonder," is a lumbering, low-end jam (as are pretty much all the five-minutes-plus songs here) propelled by drummer Pete Salisbury's out-front drumming and Nick McCabe's steely guitar stabs; Ashcroft chills vocally, sitting and wondering where he used to sway and swoon. While the playing and production is amazing, teasing every bluesy tone out for dramatic effect, the song's pretty iffy, demanding as much as inspiring any assignment of greatness. "Love Is Noise" is an uptempo change-up, based on a happy-sad New Order chord progression (again, over-and-over-and-over) and soul-sister-sung hook, the kind Happy Mondays used around 1988, with Ashcroft spouting stoned profunderies accordingly. It's such a random hook ("ah-HAH-ah-hah"), all it would take is one parody version adding Ralph from The Simpsons' "Haah-hah" to turn the hollow awe-struck track into an aw-hell-no. But with Forth, the Verve aren't courting a new audience and have no time for cynics. Like the Black Crowes or Oasis, they are perhaps a little worse at what they do best ("Columbo" is the warm-but-wide-eyed psychedelia they did so well on "Man Called Sun" 18 years ago, only now graying at the temples). But for that, they really are feeling—and sounding—blessed, even if it's our own short-term nostalgia that's doing the blessing.
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