With The Verve’s reunion a thing of the past and his appeal as a solo artist steadily decreasing, front-man Richard Ashcroft is back with a new band and what looks to be a new approach…
Back in those heady Britpop days of the 90’s, Richard Ashcroft was hailed by many as the greatest front-man of his generation. His trademark on-stage swagger, distinctive voice and knack for writing heart-swelling anthems marked him out as one of the greats of the era. When The Verve split for the second time after Urban Hymns, it was assumed Ashcroft would go on to reach even greater heights as a solo artist. His first solo album Alone with Everybody was a promising start. But since then Ashcroft as a solo artist has never come close to equalling the heights achieved by The Verve.
Now The Verve’s second, and presumably last, reunion is over, Ashcroft has decided to shake things up a bit. He’s formed a new band, not out of like-minded Northern soul-mates – but trendy American session musicians. He’s even roped in respected hip-hop producer No I.D. On paper, then, ‘United Nations of Sound’ should be dominated by the sound of a musical great forcing himself out of his comfort zone to create something totally unique and interesting. No chance. What we get is an album full of the sort of over-sentimental ballads and ego-centric lyrics that marred his solo career.
The biggest offender is ‘This Thing Called Life’; a lumbering, awkward ballad that starts with Ashcroft doing a Springsteen impression – and goes steadily downhill from there. As if recognising how poor it is, he drops in a ‘Drugs Don’t Work’ reference to remind us of him at his best – but by then it’s already well beyond saving.
For an artist presumably striving to reinvent himself, there are a lot of echoes to his past work in United Nations of Sound. ‘America’, perhaps the album’s best song, is clearly a close relative to Alone with Everbody’s ‘New York’ – even using the same ‘are you tuning in’ refrain. ‘Beatitudes’ borrows heavily from the vastly superior ‘Precious Stone’, a B-side from the Alone with Everybody sessions. While ‘Good Lovin’ sounds like a remix of former single ‘Music is Power’.
Ashcroft’s voice has always been his biggest strength. Just a cursory glance through the YouTube archives will tell you that his is one of the richest, most soulful voices in music. Without it, United Nations of Sound would have probably never seen the light of day. But with it, the album is almost listenable. In ‘She Brings the Music’ he sings: “Just walkin’ the street / And what do I find? / People walking in the wrong way…” In anyone else’s hands it would be laughable, but Ashcroft imbues so much soul and meaning to it that you almost forgive him.
Musically, ‘United Nations of Sound’ is, a few bluesy numbers aside, no different from his solo output. It’s pretty clear that his intention was to make something different, but it seems as soon as he got into the studio he reverted straight back to his comfort zone.
It could have been a great change of direction for Richard Ashcroft, but United Nations of Sound ends up feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Buy United Nations Of Sound from Amazon