02 September 2008

The Verve goes 'Forth' and forges a reunion

The Verve's road to reunion has been a bittersweet symphony.

In 1997, The Verve's hit Bitter Sweet Symphony launched the English rock quartet to international stardom, propelling album Urban Hymns to platinum sales in the USA.

But the success of Symphony also was a harbinger of the band's demise. The pressures of touring and fame proved too much, and in 1999, the band called it quits. Nearly 10 years later, they've put the rocky past behind them and released fourth album Forth, new this week on the group's On Your Own label.

For fans who have been waiting patiently for a reunion, Forth is a seamless transition from Urban Hymns, employing the poetic lyricism and shimmering atmospherics that established the band as one of the most influential of British rock.

"I called the band back together simply for the joy of making music," says lead singer Richard Ashcroft, speaking over the sound of a rooster crowing from his home in Gloucestershire, England. "I don't think The Verve should be something we just kill off. Let's breathe some life into it."

But Ashcroft, 36, is taking a realistic approach to the reunion. "If it works out, it does, but if not, I'm glad we got to record this album."

To create Forth, the band (Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Peter Salisbury) met in the studio for the first time since its breakup, with equipment ready to go. "We just got down to business," Ashcroft says. "We're there to make music, not to get along, not to create false relationships.

"Forth is really the most spontaneous album we've ever done. People thought we were fossils, but they're all wrong."

Ashcroft is promoting the project with reluctance and says no tour is planned to support Forth. "I thought that being famous means you have to have created great works, but nowadays it's just fame for fame's sake," he says.

But Ashcroft has been around long enough to know that fame comes with a price. Before the breakup, the band was plagued by lawsuits. Jazz label Verve filed a trademark infringement complaint, forcing the band to change its name to The Verve. ABKCO Records demanded Bitter Sweet's profits and royalties over use of a loop from the Rolling Stones' The Last Time. Rampant drug use and friction between Ashcroft and McCabe also kept the group uncomfortably rooted in the limelight.

Still, Ashcroft has no regrets. "Fame is a funny thing. It's a combination of a Shakespearean comedy, Spinal Tap and Hunter S. Thompson. You've got to just have a laugh at it."

Even if Forth revives the band's former glory, Ashcroft has no plans to give up his solo career. "I don't want to invest all my mental and spiritual resources into something that may not work out," he says. "I have a family now, I do what I do, and I go home. I'm very lucky to have had the career I've had. I'm so grateful. The true friends and fans will continue to follow us faithfully."

Does another Bitter Sweet Symphony await fans on Forth?

"Bitter Sweet is the greatest pop anthem of all time," he says. "But success is often outside of an artist's control. Otherwise, Velvet Underground would have been the most popular band in the world."

For now, he's content with whatever comes his way. "Right now, I've got a gospel choir singing in my head, I've got Jay-Z joining me in a duet. Who knows where I'm going?" he says. "But I will always continue to make music, whether it's with The Verve or on my own."

Source: USA Today