Is Richard Ashcroft talking about his bandmates when he sings "sometimes life seems to tear us apart/I don't wanna let you go" on the Verve's latest album? The band did break up prematurely in 1999 and finally reunited last year. Whatever the case, if the Verve ever suffered from any pressure to match the immense success of its previous album, 1997's Urban Hymns, or the masterpiece quality of "Bittersweet Symphony," that album's leadoff single, you wouldn't know it listening to Forth. Though the songwriting, guitar layering, orchestral touches, and subject matter don't differ much from the band's now-classic back catalog, a sense of relaxation pervades the new material, which makes for an interesting — if initially jarring — contrast to the solemn mood the band still strives for. Ashcroft uses the word pain repeatedly yet sounds clear-headed, so the music doesn't hurt so good the way Urban Hymns did. Rest assured, though, that the Verve can still summon majestic beauty at will, even on a predominantly downtempo, low-key affair like Forth. The delectable melancholy of "Rather Be," the spare fragility of "Numbness," and so on all exemplify what made the Verve so powerful in the first place. And to fully appreciate the power of Forth, you need simply to get comfortable with the fact that the band is comfortable now too.
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