Well into the third decade of his recording career, Richard Ashcroft has slowly become regarded as something of a national treasure – a minor one at least, comfortably sitting somewhere towards the top end of the Adrian Chiles/David Attenborough spectrum. Despite this, he’s largely kept a low profile since the dissolution of The Verve in 2009, save for the failed experiment that was 2010’s ‘RPA & The United Nations of Sound’ (side note: what was that? A solo album? A new band? A dodgy attempt at a trendy music collective? To paraphrase the man himself: Lord, I guess I’ll never know.)
‘These People’, his first record in six years, then, is an interesting one; it’s Ashcroft’s latest attempt at world domination, but it’s also him seeing if it’s safe to come back into the water, with many songs harkening back to the acoustic balladry that made him famous. Just take a look at the album cover – the big block capital initials is a bold move, but there’s also ‘Ashcroft’ in tiny lettering underneath, in case you’ve forgotten who he is in the decade since he last bothered the charts with ‘Break the Night with Colour’.
That said, there’s an electronic tinge to some of the songs this time around, such as the funky-if-questionably-titled ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Hurt’ and the cautiously optimistic ‘Ain’t The Future So Bright’, the latter of which features squealy Dr. Dre synths to surprising effect. This gives the whole album a modern, polished sound, and to his credit feels much less contrived than you might expect from the famously traditionalist songwriter.
‘Out of My Body’, a trademark Ashcroft call-to-arms against a nonspecific oppressor – “when you find the truth”, he warns, “It’ll rock you to your roots” – which boasts a Timbaland-type beat grafted onto his usual acoustic guitars and strings, announces his comeback in typical chest-beating fashion. ‘This Is How It Feels’, an early highlight and the album’s first single follows, and it can only be described as electro-doo wop, with a refrain of “yeahs” and “uh-uhs” tailor made to be sang along with by beer-sloshing festival crowds.
There’s plenty to love here, including the driving piano rock of ‘Hold On’ and ‘They Don’t Own Me’ – look, there’s that nonspecific ‘they’ again – with the only real misstep being the largely forgettable durge ‘Picture of You’. Ashcroft has never been one for subtlety, and the platitudes and lyrical clichés about how “nothing in life is free” and his “marching to a different beat” are still piled on in spades, but his earnest delivery and the sweeping backdrops manage to add weight to his songs regardless, almost without fail. The title track is perhaps the best of the bunch; a throwback to the kind Britpop they just don’t make anymore, all swirling guitar jangle and ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ bombast.
‘These People’ is unlikely to win over anyone who doesn’t already worship at the altar of King Richard, but that’s okay – not every album needs to re-invent the wheel, and after the better part of a decade, it’s just good to have him back.
‘These People’ is out now via Righteous Phonographic Association
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