Blame it on the eleven-year gap between albums or its messy interpersonal relationships, but the Verve was arguably poised to slip into the space-rock slot of the Brit-pop revolution that ended up going to Radiohead. Whereas the latter eventually went beyond this base designation via groundbreaking recordings Kid A and Amnesiac, the commercial bounce the Verve got from its breakthrough "Bittersweet Symphony" was fleeting as the band splintered shortly afterward. In the aftermath came solo albums by frontman Richard Ashcroft that were met indifferently, plus the rise of Coldplay, a group whose everyman esoteric approach to music sated the yearnings of mainstream fans not quite enamored with Radiohead's increasingly avant-flavored direction. In other words, a fan base that could just as easily gone the way of the Verve.
With Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe having patched things up, the Mancunian quartet exercises restraint on this comeback effort — going with a manageable ten songs and in the process flexing its collective muscle by pumping up the reverb and laying out lots of dream-pop soundscapes. To be sure, some of it readily crosses over into self-indulgence — "Noise Epic" is eight minutes of odd time changes and squalling guitar passages best used as a deterrent for unwanted guests. But these same attempts at grandiosity work well in other quarters — the closer "Appalachian Springs" and its tale of loss builds on a hypnotically woven-together string of guitar chords that bounce of Ashcroft's singing of solitude and sacred moods. Or the way in which the Verve snaps out of its flirtation with somnambulism via numbers "Love Is Noise," a dance-rock gem reminiscent of vintage Psychedelic Furs and the overarching opening guitar anthem "Sit and Wonder," where Ashcroft's pained and clear phrasing brings to mind Thom Yorke before he started dabbling with Krautrock. Overall, the Verve gets its shoegazing freak on with a return that's less groundbreaking than familiar. (On Your Own)
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