Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"The Thaw Session," Uncut Magazine article by John Mulvey

Just a quick one today: I must admit that, a few months ago, it was hard to imagine Richard Ashcroft ever being involved in music I’d like again. But The Verve reunion has thrown up a few intriguing possibilities, not least the suggestion that they may sidestep all the windy balladry and return to the sort of cosmic orientation that made the band so interesting in the first place.

All this anticipation was kind of confirmed today, when I heard this download that’s turned up on NME.com. It’s called “The Thaw Session”, it seems to be what we can only call a jam, and it goes on for a reassuringly preposterous length of time. Listening to it for the second time right now, I’m reminded of a bunch of very early shows I saw the band play, when Nick McCabe’s levitating, ambulatory guitar lines seemed to goad Ashcroft into ever more cosmic behaviour.

Part of me – I guess I was maybe 23 at the time and a committed indie kid, for my sins – recoiled from the unmediated hippiness of it all. But a lot of me was drawn to it: like the Spiritualized records of the time that Verve (as they were then) had studied so assiduously, it pointed to the expansive possibilities offered by psychedelic music. I suppose I’ve never looked back.

I always liked the early singles best, though, when it felt as if McCabe was in the ascendant, when Ashcroft was impelled to behave like a dislocated spirit more than a belligerent, romantic everyman. So it’s encouraging when “The Thaw Sessions” appears to begin in the middle of a wandering, fragile McCabe riff, then spends a long time happily going nowhere much.

An astral synth hum provides a constant. Jones and Salisbury have a feathery, jazzy flutter to their rhythms, a real loose-limbed feel. And Ashcroft is a ghostly, mystical presence, drifting in and out of the mix, extemporising vaguely – recapturing, most importantly, the subtlety which has eluded him so completely throughout his solo career.

If I could find an analogue in their existing catalogue – or at least from what I remember; it’s been a while – it would be with “A Man Called Sun”, a liquid, quicksilver vibe that’s a million miles away from the plodding, foursquare balladeers they went on to inspire. I’m reminded of Echo And The Bunnymen, and how their reunion saw them suppress the mercurial aspects of their sound in order to conform with prevailing indie mediocrity. The Verve, heroically, seem to be taking a diametrically opposite path. Let’s just hope these jams never solidify into anything so prosaic as songs.