In the current issue of NME, Richard Ashcroft’s new album ‘United Nations Of Sound’ gets a kicking from Gavin Haynes. Here, another NME writer sticks up for the former Verve man
Mad Richard, Dickie, a shaman, a thief – Richard Ashcroft’s been called many things during his 20 year career. But a British rock approximation of Des’ree, less worthy of attention than the new series of My Family, as NME’s Gavin Haynes suggested in his mauling of ‘United Nations Of Sound’? That’s one prick in Brit-rock’s perennial dartboard too many.
Putting the glorious, but predictably doomed, resurrection of The Verve to one side for a moment, Gavin’s right to note that Ashcroft’s solo career has been a “steady plummet to mediocrity”. Even his wife Kate Radley will have spent the past decade smiling meekly during album playbacks.
But if ‘United Nations Of Sound’ does one thing, it halts Ashcroft’s solo decline – it’s undoubtedly the most arresting post-Verve record of his career. You only have to listen to opener ‘Are You Ready?’, a maelstrom of tense strings and insistent vocals, to understand that this is a man who’s rediscovering his fire and focus.
It’s been long overdue. Ignoring one truly bizarre incident in a youth club in 2006, Dickie’s domestic bliss has been there for all to hear on his last three solo outings. Which was great for him – having kids, shopping for furniture and mowing the lawn is nowhere near as bad as it’s cracked up to be, seriously – but not so great to listen to.
Via a wrong turn at ‘Urban Hymns’, the string-drenched ‘Alone With Everybody’, ‘Human Conditions’ and ‘Keys To The World’ were a million miles from the blissful existential wig-outs of pre-The debut ‘Storm In Heaven’ and Nick McCabe’s thunderous walls of guitar on ‘A Northern Soul’.
While ‘United Nations Of Sound’ is nowhere near as good as either of those two records, it comes pretty close to a return to form. Sure, there’s a dose of “AOR bilge” on the likes of ‘This Thing Called Life’ and ‘Royal Highness’ – well spotted, Hercule Haynes – but there’s also plenty to enjoy, from the blues-rock strut of ‘How Deep Is Your Man’ to trademark bonkers/confused/ egocentric stuff about hypnosis, being a “fish with legs” and humans being able to fly (yeah, that again).
He can say this sort of shit now for the same reason he’s always been able to – because he’s Richard Ashcroft, the greatest British frontman of his generation. ‘United Nations Of Sound’ falls short of being a total resurrection, but it’s certainly a huge, waggly-footed step in the right direction.