His face submerged in darkness, flames licking his features: “Enjoy your free drinks. No guestlist. Au revoir, NME.”
This was Richard Ashcroft, last week, burning a 2006 copy of NME in his back garden and filming it on Instagram as he gave a running commentary. He was on the cover of said magazine, but was annoyed that his latest album, ‘Natural Rebel’, recently received a two-star review from our writer Mark Beaumont. So, sadly, Ashcroft insisted that he’d severed ties with us.
Actually, it wasn’t even a particularly harsh review, with praise for such standout moments as “when Ashcroft mingles ELO strings with Jam Northern soul on the life-loving ‘Surprised By The Joy’”. Let’s be clear about this: the track in question, the record’s lead single, is a proper dad-rock banger, a lovely, life-affirming paean from a man who has faced down tough times and come out swinging: “Surprised by the joy of this / Surprised I’m alive, I guess.”
And we weren’t the only people to pan the album, which received a fair few two-star notices, along with two four-star reviews from Mojo and Q, though fuck knows why he cares. ‘Natural Rebel’ is currently perched at the Number One spot in the midweek album charts and – though it seems certain that, even as we speak, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are climbing into their ‘A Star Is Born’ JCB to piledrive their way back to the top spot by the week’s end – this proves that his legion of fans remains devout in their faithfulness to the shamanistic hero.
Ashcroft has now deleted the Instagram post where he burned the issue of NME whose cover he graced – his only copy, he claimed – and, as the flames rose, ink rolling from his photo’s eyes like black tears, declared, “I don’t give fuck. You won’t get another word out of me. Carry on, Carry on.”
In fact, he has deleted every one of his previous Instagram posts and shared the ‘Natural Rebel’ album artwork – which sees him holding his guitar triumphantly aloft – with the caption: “this is it forget the pretty pictures the last few weeks have confirmed everything I knew about our culture peace and love hope to see you at the gigs for now I’m looking after my fam.” Ashcroft, it seems, has been burned by the bad reviews, despite the positive feedback from fans.
Before he removed it, his NME-singeing post was flooded with support from fans that disagreed with our review. Similarly, when he shared a photo of Metro’s critic, who was similarly dismissive, and invited him to attend a gig to witness the full force of those Ashcroft’s pipes in person, the firm fans were quick to remind him of their steadfast devotion.
In-keeping with our review, I reckon ‘Natural Rebel’ has moments of brilliance – the aforementioned ‘Surprised By The Joy’ and deliciously spiteful closer ‘Money Money’ – that epitomise Ashcroft’s post-Verve career. You know the myth that Daddy Longlegs are the most poisonous spiders in the universe, but don’t have the power to release their venom? I sometimes think Richard Ashcroft is like that: filled with genius, but not always able to release it.
Take, for instance, this line from ‘Bittersweet Symphony’: “I’m a million different people from one day to the next”. Genius. Beautiful. If ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ was the only thing Ashcroft had ever done (and no, it doesn’t matter that it’s wrapped around a Rolling Stones sample), he’d remain cause for serious celebration. Reviewers must speak their mind – it’s kinda the point – and all music careers (even David Bowie’s!) have dry spells and purple patches.
Given that, in a recent interview, Ashcroft criticised NME for loving Lady Gaga, there’d be a certain irony in ‘Natural Rebel’ getting nudged aside by ‘A Star Is Born’, but then there’s equal room for every genre now. And we hope that Richard Ashcroft – unpredictable rock star, he of the bizarre behaviour – never changes; its much more fun when people speak their minds.
Don’t take the reviews to heart, Richard – your fans certainly won’t. In your own words: “Carry on, carry on”.