The last time we saw Richard Ashcroft, the former Verve frontman was touting his rock-soul collective United Nations of Sound. After four solo records, the once-indefatigable Ashcroft looked and sounded defeated, like a boxer who’d gone one too many rounds. After, he more or less disappeared from view, playing only a handful of low-key acoustic shows and releasing no new material for the next six years. It was, to say the least, an ignoble note for an artist as talented as Ashcroft to disappear on.
That exile officially ended yesterday with ‘This is How it Feels’, the first single from surprise new album ‘These People’, and a tantalising return to form for one of British rock’s most mercurial talents. It goes without saying that it’s good to have him back: Ashcroft may have had his ups and downs as a solo artist, but he’s still one of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced, and while he might seem like a man out of time in 2016, the same was arguably true 20 years ago, when Noel Gallagher wrote ‘Cast No Shadow’ about him. Ashcroft was only 24 years old then, but already Gallagher recognised someone who was “Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say, chained to all the places that he never wished to stay“, and even at the height of The Verve’s success, their frontman was a perennial outsider – God’s lonely man cutting a solitary path through life as though it were an extended take of the ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ video.
All of which is to say, if he’s rediscovered his mojo, then we can’t wait to hear the results. History, after all, shows that you write Ashcroft off at your peril: The Verve’s short-lived 2007 reunion might ultimately have been as chaotic and self-defeating as the rest of their career, but they still managed to conquer Glastonbury and record a final album, ‘Forth’, that silenced everyone who said they were only doing it for the money. Can he pull off something similar with ‘These People’? It certainly seems possible. Welcome back, Richard.