Return From The Wilderness
There’s not many mercurial forces left within the British alternative rock scene, a booming industry once rampant in splendour, Beatles-esque melodies and ultimately the flag-bearer for an entire generation in the form of Brit-Pop - but Richard Ashcroft is certainly one of them. After leading one of the most acclaimed yet combative forces of the 90's British indie explosion in The Verve, Ashcroft has experienced the ups and downs of an industry and culture thriving on money, fame and product - at times pushed to the point where there seems no return. The acclaim that came with The Verve’s unprecedented modern classic “Urban Hymns” has steadily declined over recent years, and they seem to have taken their toll on a man unafraid to put his emotions squarely on the surface. “These People” stands as his first record in over 6 years, when discounting the United Nations Of Sound project making that over a decade since his last LP under his own moniker, and finds Ashcroft attempting to combine his unmistakable songwriting prowess with a desire to grow and adapt to the sounds around him with varying degrees of success.
In his element, there’s not many who can compete with Ashcroft’s raw emotional core, and “These People” serves as a timely reminder to just how effortless his talents are. In the title track he wistfully dreams “imagine my life without your morning smile, the look of love that says ‘stay a while’” chiming alongside a Madchester metallic slide whilst “Picture Of You” sees him pine “I’ve got a picture of you, the glory of you, in my mind” reverberating with a 70's New York swagger enchanted by an unmistakably British soul. For those seeking a definitive cut of Verve glory, album highlight “They Don’t Own Me” is a delectable slice of classic Ashcroft, sounding as close to a sequel to “The Drugs Don’t Work” as there will ever be, and a prime example of Ashcroft at his most potent. More electric and expansive is “Songs Of Experience”, lead by the string sections which have previously caused him such financial peril, they are equally as important to the Ashcroft sound as his voice is, and spiral into a scratchy guitar finale, it’s an exciting insight into where the man now stands in the 21st century.
Whilst Ashcroft is untouchable in those unifying yet gritty anthems, “These People” also finds the iconic frontman attempting to pull in a more modern/contemporary edge with an adventure into electro-pop that comes across disjointed, fragmented and completely lacking that distinctive authenticity that defines Ashcroft and all he stands for. “Out Of My Body”’s shift between Johnny Cash interludes and pumping European dance is an uncomfortable combination whilst “Hold On” never catches that right blend of strings, beats and pop that it aims for, sounding particularly average when packaged together.
Yet despite such ill-advised forays, “These People” stands as something much more important, a return from the wilderness for one of the most vital and decisive voices in British musical history. As heard reverberating through the crackled emotions of “This Is How It Feels”, having Ashcroft back making the music he feels like and speaking the truths he’s continued to do throughout his career is an undeniable triumph. As a record “These People” is a patchy affair lacking any real direction, however when it does hit the right spot Ashcroft is untouchable. It’s a welcome sight to see him back, now it’s about finding that right vehicle to house British music’s true cultural enigma.