Talk of a return to the relative glory days of a decade ago is often hostage to the fortunes of the modern music business. But the re-formation of the Verve has its supporters dreaming big.
The reunited British modern rock quartet, fronted by Richard Ashcroft, releases its “Forth” album Aug. 25 on Parlophone/EMI in the United Kingdom and internationally. It’s the band’s first album since its most successful, “Urban Hymns,” appeared 11 years ago, and for the new album’s U.S. appearance Aug. 26, the Verve will fly solo.
That release is on the group’s On Your Own imprint via New York indie Megaforce, distributed by RED.
“There’s a real solid base for the band in America,” manager Jazz Summers of Big Life Management says, “and quite honestly, if you can sell a couple of hundred thousand records, you make a lot more money than when you sell a million records for the record company.”
“Forth” is a bracing blend of the experimentalism of the group’s early work and the more structured songwriting of its last two efforts. The album is highlighted by the dreamy “Judas,” arguably one of the most beautiful songs the band has yet penned, and the anthemic ballad “Valium Skies,” a sure-fire future concert staple that is reminiscent of the hit “Lucky Man” from “Urban Hymns.”
Elsewhere, the Verve stretches out in ways it hasn’t since the early ’90s, particularly on the eight-minute “Noise Jam,” a propulsive rocker with references to Mother Mary, Steve McQueen and the Rapture.
U.S. media interest and interview requests for the band have been “so overwhelming,” Megaforce president Missi Callazzo says. “There’s a grand mystique with the Verve, and it continues to this day.”
That’s supported by the extraordinary ongoing popularity of the band’s best-known song, 1997’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” The track, which rocketed the Verve to international fame only to become embroiled in a lawsuit over its sample of an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” has sold 207,000 U.S. downloads this year alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 983,000 altogether.
U.S. sales of the Verve’s ’90s catalog show unbroken upward momentum, culminating in 1.4 million for “Urban Hymns.” Ashcroft’s three solo albums for Virgin, on the other hand, have traveled in the other direction, from 86,000 for 2000’s “Alone With Everybody” to 26,000 for “Human Conditions” (2003) to not quite 8,000 for “Keys to the World” (2006).
Ashcroft will continue to record solo alongside his work with the group and has also transferred from Virgin to Parlophone for those projects. Parlophone U.K.-based president of labels Miles Leonard, who signed the Verve as an A&R man for Hut/Virgin in 1991, says, “With the changes that happened at Virgin over the years, he felt he didn’t have a connection there any longer.
“Me and Richard go way back, so he called me one day and said, ‘Why don’t we go full circle?’ We made that swap and worked on [his last] solo album, then they re-formed the band and it still felt like the natural home for the same reasons.”
A CD and vinyl boxed edition of “Forth” will be available in the States, while the U.K. release also includes a deluxe CD/tour DVD package and a boxed “super deluxe” edition.
The Verve played its first reunion shows at U.K. arenas last November and December, before U.S. interest was warmed by a Coachella headliner slot and two April sellouts in New York at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theatre. The band then had the invaluable chance to trumpet its return, and an imminent album, by headlining the last night of the Glastonbury Festival in late June.
Further fest appearances followed at Scotland’s T in the Park and at Summer Sonic, on the Verve’s first dates in Japan (Aug 9-10), then England’s V Festival (Aug. 16-17). Summers says his team wants to “see how the record goes” before deciding on more U.S. dates.
The grand scale of such international events emphasizes the two-tier nature of the new campaign. Leonard says, “Like Oasis and the best of the bands from [the ’90s], the Verve still resonate with the people who grew up with them and are older now, in their late 20s or [early] 30s.
“But there’s a whole wealth of teens that are discovering them, heard those classics—whether it be ‘Lucky Man,’ ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony,’ ‘This Is Music’ or ‘History’—and probably thought they’d never get the chance to see this amazing band,” he continues. “Here’s their opportunity, and they’re lapping it up.”