Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ashcing for more

The Verve flame is still lit, but I was hoping for a little bit brighter...

Richard Ashcroft
Alone With Everybody (Virgin, 2000)
Key tracks: A Song For the Lovers, I Get My Beat, New York, *On A Beach

All in all, I'm happy for Mr. Ashcroft. He's found love, he's cleaned up, and he sounds happier than he was in those days of Northern Soul. As a songwriter, he's grown up, but sadly, that's a double-edged sword, as growing up usually takes away all of the angst that makes music exciting. Here's hoping that the other members of the Verve can see past their differences, and show Coldplay and Keane, or whoever who's the boss. -Donovan Reese

Devoted M2 viewer that I am, I've seen the video for Alone with Everybody's first single, "A Song for the Lovers," more than once. It's not a particularly high-concept video or anything, so hopefully my description will adequately capture the filmic vision here: Richard sits around his hotel room. He takes a shower, eats part of a sandwich, messes with the stereo, and sits around some more, being skinny and full-lipped. As the song ends-- and forgive me for ruining the dramatic ending here-- it finally seems like something's about to happen. Instead, Ashcroft goes to the bathroom, and... you get to hear him urinate. -Meg Zamula

Richard Ashcroft
Human Conditions (Virgin, 2003)
Key tracks: Science of Silence

I really wish he would start rocking out again, hopefully he'll get divorced or something because he only produces awesome material when his life is in shambles. -The Overweight Lover

Sliding further into Lite Rock oblivion
Richard Ashcroft is the Sting of his generation - a man of immense talent, charisma and ego who, despite all his efforts, is a much more effective bandleader than a solo artist. I was listening to The Police's ZENYATTA MONDATTA the other day for the first time in years, and marveled at how creative and energetic Sting sounded back then with the great Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers backing him up. But it goes without saying that when those two "spark plugs" were gone, Sting became the dull adult contemporary star he is today. His ego would never allow it, but Sting desperately needs The Police back together to regain any creative respectibility.

The same goes with Ashcroft, whose records with The Verve were some of the most beautiful, creative, soul-searching recordings of the 1990s. URBAN HYMNS, to continue the Police analogy, was their SYNCHRONICITY - an album where all the band's strenghts seemed to come together (shoegazing space jams, blistering rock, lush and introspective ballads). Ashcroft was without question the star, but you could feel the tension of the rest of the band pushing him and, it turns out, tearing themselves apart.

Now a solo artist without anyone to tell him "no," Ashcroft has recorded two CDs that are essentially extensions of "The Drugs Don't Work" from HYMNS - heavily orchestrated self-confessionals that grow tiresome quickly. It's fine to record a song or two about crying out to God, how you've got the "blues," how your drug taking days are over, how you found the love of your life (Heaven sent, no less). But every song on HUMAN CONDITIONS follows these themes, with Ashcroft making what he must consider to be a Grand Statement On The Mysteries Of Life, but with lyrics that come out horribly simplistic and cliched. Spiritualized-lite, if you will.

The lyrics get so tiresome on this CD that I found myself paying more attention to the music itself. Ashcroft's first CD, ALONE WITH EVERYBODY, was much maligned in the press and with his fans, but to me - at least sonically - it was an extension of what The Verve had achieved with HYMNS, and was a beautiful sounding CD with quite impressive production (especially through headphones). But Ashcroft must have believed his critics, for HUMAN CONDITIONS is stripped down to a fault, with one restrained, mid-tempo song after another. Most of the songs slide by without any catchy melodies, instantly forgettable. -Craig Dominey

This is the point at which it becomes hideously clear that Richard Ashcroft’s ego far outreaches his talent. Human Conditions is the sound of a bloated, self-satisfied ‘star’ proclaiming his faux-genius loudly from the rooftops, and it is rubbish.

Ashcroft’s rampant ego has been in evidence ever since Urban Hymns, less the product of a band than a clandestine solo debut. Looking back on The Verve’s career it is eerily apparent that Ashcroft slowly squeezed Nick McCabe out of the band over the course of their three albums, his vocals literally usurping McCabe’s unpredictable, reverb-saturated guitars in the mix until they dominated the sound. Their third album no longer saw songwriting credits attributed to the band as a whole, Ashcroft claiming sole credit for nine of the tunes. As a result, Urban Hymns shied away from danger and chaos in favour of song-based predictability, and ended up an unexciting, overly smooth record, which finally found Ashcroft the mass audience that he had always predicted and craved. His face writ large on the cover, Alone With Everybody continued the slick, polished over-production and mature singer-songwriter approach, with strings, mawkish sentiment and Ashcroft’s increasingly affected vocals combined to limply arrogant affect. Like others before him, Ashcroft clearly saw himself as leaving the sphere of pop or rock music, and stepping over the threshold into the realm of the serious ‘artiste’.

Human Conditions sees Richard Ashcroft grabbing hold of his legacy, his ego, and what remains of his talent, and sailing even further up his own arse with them. The cover sees him in tasteful, classicist black and white, attired as the aristocrat-wannabe rockstar, smoking a cigarette and posing like Steve McQueen on some empty, nameless racetrack. Is this the man who once (literally) died for rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t think so.

Note: Score ratings in bold are Select Reviews, and "( )" the authors cited.