New CD: The Verve's 'Forth'

The Verve "Forth" (On Your Own/MRI/Red)

* * 1/2

People take drugs for two reasons: because they desire something utterly predictable, or just the opposite. Bands like the Verve, a mainstay of England's psychedelically inclined 1990s rock scene, romanticized the first outcome in songs culled from free-form jam sessions and lyrics, by pretty preacher Richard Ashcroft, about shouting down inner demons in a struggle to perfect the soul.

But the Verve's most successful songs came closer to the second kind of chemical experience. Expansive but solid at the core, the band's commercially friendly rock produced the desired effect: Ashcroft's comforting platitudes reduced emotional inflammation, while Nick McCabe's forceful guitar effect (supported by a no-nonsense rhythm section) cleared the head like an antihistamine.

This comeback album (after eight years apart, the group reunited in 2007, triumphantly claiming the Coachella main stage this spring), is as solid as a dose of Extra Strength Tylenol. Balancing McCabe's love of athletic jamming with Ashcroft's bardic aspirations, "Forth" is centered on slowly building jams that pay off in transcendent choruses; a few shorter, more popwise songs, like the single "Love Is Noise," follow the precedent of the band's one huge international hit, the sample-happy "Bittersweet Symphony."

Like many an English lad before him, Ashcroft puts the sneer into soul; his fine-sandpaper voice tempers the music's heavenward thrust. It's satisfying, this blend of the angelic and the blokeish, but on "Forth" it never feels very urgent or original. If an anthem deficiency is what ails you, this album is a perfectly useful over-the-counter treatment. Just don't expect the trip to take you anywhere new.

--Ann Powers

Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.