Richard Ashcroft – These People
Ex-Verve man with mixed bag of tricks on fifth solo album
With a dapper new look and tidy haircut, Richard Ashcroft may seem very different from the ruffled and swaggering mid-90s northerner with a tendency for bumping into people on the street. But while this is his fifth solo release since The Verve’s second of three break-ups in 1999, there are several moments on These People which hark all the way back to the golden days of Urban Hymns.
Listen to the guitar and verse of ‘They Don’t Own Me’ and try to keep ‘Lucky Man’ from your brain while ‘Black Lines’ veers melodically close to ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. There are even sections when he sounds a lot like people that he really shouldn’t be mirroring: ‘This is How it Feels’ comes across like a showreel he might have submitted to audition for the post-Robbie Take That while, most weirdly of all, a recurring lyrical motif in ‘Hold On’ sounds like he’s about to launch into the Chicken Tonight ad.
While he seems to be taking a broader look at the world around him (the press release cites Syria and the Arab Spring as triggers for this album), personal matters will always take flight in his songs. Not that he always hits the right note lyrically: on the title track he actually comes up with this without any sense of irony: ‘could there be life without the movies? / a soixante-neuf without the erotique?’ This from a man who once mournfully and memorably sang of a dying parent: ‘like a cat in a bag waiting to drown’.
All of this makes it sound as though there are no pleasures to be had on These People. Thankfully that would be a false claim. With its sitar-like refrains, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Hurt’ witnesses a welcome return of ye olde cocksure leer while ‘Picture of You’ is a plaintively shimmering nugget. Top track ‘Ain’t the Future So Bright’ is a layered, string-laden gem about hope and despair which mercifully suggests that there’s still plenty to come from the Wigan troubadour.
Out Fri 20 May on Righteous Phonographic Association.