At this time, it was still clearly Nick McCabe's band and not Richard Ashcroft's. Oh, what might have been.
Admittedly, there's lots about the 'oatmeal-rock' days of said band, to quote a pithy Canadian comment about where Verve finally ended up after they got stuck with the 'the,' which I don't mind and/or downright enjoy. It is clearly not the same band, though. Whereas here the first thing you hear is a massive guitar chord, and when "Star Sail" proceeds to lift up through the clouds, Ashcroft is saying something all right, but he's buried in the echo and it's McCabe's scrapes, chimes, swirls and kicks which is carrying everything, which pulls back and crashes in again. And that's why Verve were so great and why even when Ashcroft took control he realized he couldn't do it without McCabe back, and finally had to fully give it up when the guitarist took a full powder and realized that producing the Beta Band was a more fun thing to do. And it was.
It's all the band that works together here, though. So when Simon Jones' bass sneaks in on "Slide Away," the mood is set, and then McCabe goes off a bit and then Ashcroft practically sighs, "So take your time…," it's so good -- but not as good as when he says "But just for today, let go, slide away!" and the chorus soars and soars, but all the while with this careful, lovely ache. This is music, more accurately.
So call it being lost in a tangle of sound, of production techniques (but what did you expect, it's John Leckie behind the boards and the man has produced just about everybody and done so wonderfully), because it is and do I ever have no regrets. When I hear scraps of Ashcroft talking about "hearing music until the day I die" and then this wondrous solo kicks up in the fog before the crunch fully kicks in and then there's talk about "hearing the screams" on "Already There," it all fits. As it should.
The beautiful afterechoes on "Beautiful Mind," the flutes on "Virtual World," the reaching towards something on "Make It Till Monday," the massive stomp and punch on "Butterfly," etc. etc. etc. So much to enjoy, indulge, drown in, that's why this album is such a perfect trip, why where they went next was a comedown no matter how you sliced it. And I haven't even mentioned the point in "The Sun, The Sea" where everything calms down, nothing but a slight echo and guitar bit and something, Ashcroft floating along with it all then saying, "Hold on now…hold on now…here it comes here it comes HERE IT COMES!" and McCabe and company rip everything apart just like the album title says it would. Man, oh man.