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The Verve
Forth On Your Own

Sounds like: Urban Hymns redux
Short take: An alluring Brit pop symphony

1990s Brit-pop act the Verve's biggest claim to fame is "Bitter Sweet Symphony," an alluring mid-tempo anthem that heavily sampled the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time." This might lead you to expect that Richard Ashcroft and Co. would stay away from further classic rock touchstones. This, however, turns out not to be the case, as the band's new track "Numbness" features the exact same guitar chords found on Pink Floyd's "Speak to Me / Breathe." Furthermore, Ashcroft doesn't shy away from the connection by opening the song with, "Just breathe in the air but don't be afraid." Still, the 10 songs on Forth, the band's first studio album since 1997's Urban Hymns, feature plenty of interesting moments (the soulful "Judas," the moody "I See Houses" and the guitar jam "Noise Epic") that re-establish the Verve as Brit pop bellwethers (and, by comparison, Coldplay as purveyors of Brit-schlock). - John Benson


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The Rumble Strips Girls and Weather Gigantic

Sounds like: Kevin Rowland, if he'd kept his shit together
Short take: A promising British pop debut

Dismissing comparisons between upstart British band the Rumble Strips and early Dexys Midnight Runners, one critic recently argued that the Rumble Strips do not play ska. Problem is, Dexys never played ska either. Plus, the Rumble Strips debut album brims with the kind of achingly ecstatic vocals, R&B-soaked brass and big choruses that characterized Kevin Rowland and company's pre-"Come On Eileen" days. The Rumble Strips' "Girls and Boys in Love" single, with its deracinated "Heat Wave" underpinnings, is poppy enough to be a Franz Ferdinand single, but more convincingly passionate and nuanced tracks like "Oh Creole" and "Cowboy" suggest the group has the potential for greatness. Given that Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson has signed on for their next album, expect the Rumble Strips to start making waves on this side of the Atlantic soon. - Bill Forman


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Starling Electric Clouded Staircase
Bar/None Records

Sounds like: Big Star, Guided by Voices, etc.
Short take: Melded indie rock and classic pop

There was a reason Miles Davis and Neil Young used to play on the same bill: Creativity knows no bounds. Now that different genres rarely share concert bills, audiences are worse off. Enter Starling Electric to try and change that. Within these 18 songs is such a wide and wild range of music, the band's almost impossible to tag. It can shift personas with total confidence, and never sound less than inspired. Led by Caleb Dillon, Starling built its name around Ann Arbor and beyond, self-releasing Clouded Staircase two years ago. Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard became a one-man cheering squad and took them out on tour with him. Recording mostly in a home studio, the quartet's real strength is how it shies away from nothing. It's a quality shared by most classic albums, which Clouded Staircase surely is. Listen now and let others know. - Bill Bentley

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