Last time we heard from Richard Ashcroft, album-wise, he was angrily burning a copy of NME in his back garden after his disappointing 2018 record ‘Natural Rebel’ scored a two-star review. Since then he’s joined a host of indie icons (come through, Ian Brown) who’ve announced themselves to be sceptical about COVID restrictions. Ashcroft recently called one festival “a government testing programme”.
Well, he’s now back with ‘Acoustic Hymns Vol.1’, a re-imagining of his own and The Verve’s “classic songs”. At first glance it may sound like a bit of a cash in and with most artists it probably would be. But one thing Ashcroft is very good at is breathing new life into timeless classics such as ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and ‘Lucky Man’ – particularly in a live setting.
With ‘Acoustic Hymns’, he’s pulled the same deft trick, hunkering down with his live band backed by an impressive string and brass section at Abbey Road Studios. Much like his own live cut of the Verve classic, opener ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is a sprawling, symphonic masterpiece reworked acoustically to allow Ashcroft’s gravelly vocals to take centre stage over subtle piano keys and twanging guitar chords.
‘A Song For The Lovers’ is more stripped-back than the original ‘Alone With Everybody’ rendition. But it still manages to encapsulate that same woozy, after hours mood, opening with a Westworld-style piano driven intro before giving way to that familiar smoky jazz club sax. ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’ wasn’t a classic by any means when it first surfaced back in 2000, but the decision to pull in Liam Gallagher to lay down his vocals alongside Ashcroft has turned it into one, as the pair swap soulful verses like two heavyweights exchanging blows on a stunning duet.
Elsewhere, there’s a sweeping gospel version of ‘Space And Time’ and a solid acoustic take of ‘Velvet Morning’, while ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ – although not massively different from the original urban hymn – is as heartbreaking as it ever was. Crowbarring in a rework of ‘This Thing Called Life’ from his 2010 RPA & The United Nations Of Sound side project feels like an odd misstep, though, as it’s easily one of the worst tracks he’s ever made.
Aside from that, and if you can get past his dubious views on COVID, ‘Acoustic Hymns Vol.1’ is well worth a listen – and an excellent reminder of some of both Ashcroft and The Verve’s finest work.
Release date: October 29
Record label: RPA/BMG