Far-sighted, far-out shaman or merely a self-obsessed tunnel- visionary? For a year-and-a- half now, this question has vexed eminent rockademics bent on fathoming whether Verve's Richard Ashcroft is actually "on one" -and if so, where can they get some? Could his and his band's spaced-out hippy schtick be no more than empty artiface masquerading as cerebral planet-rock?
'A Storm in Heaven' offers few signposts to the road of reason. It drifts, lapping at the shores of exertion, ocassionally crashing into great washes of guitar (`Blue', `Slide Away', `The Sun, The Sea'). It inhabits its own `Virtual World', where blissful blues gumption rubs noses with Prog-Rock doodlings. The result sounds like The Doors doing hot-knives in the kitchen with The Stone Roses at Spiritualized's house- chilling party.
The Wigan foursome's debut album has all of these influences, but none of the tracks from their first three, increasingly distended singles. In this sense, its languor is entirely logical, as Verve approach a pertectly reposed state of both intensity and relaxation, where song structure and silly things like choruses are subservient to atmosphere and vibes. Meanwhile, the `art versus artifice' debate rages on. Pass the skins. 6