Album Review: RPA & The United Nations Of Sound, 'United Nations Of Sound' (Parlophone)
New band in tow, the former Verve singer continues his downward career trajectory
In 2010, Richard Ashcroft has become a one-man cargo-cult. Rather than make brilliant music that tells us amazing things about life, he seems to believe that if he sings about how much he really loves music while constantly mentioning ‘life’ in its most vacuous, abstract sense, then it’s all one-and-the-same.
Dickie, you couldn’t be more wrong, son. His solo career has already been a steady plummet to mediocrity – arrested only by The Verve’s reunion – but United Nations Of Sound finds Richard actually battling it out with Des’ree for the wooden spoon in cod-philosophising about ‘life’. How much difference is there, after all, between “I don’t want to see a ghost, it’s a sight I fear most, I’d rather have a piece of toast”, and what he’s serving up by the time we hit track two (‘Born Again’): “I saw Venus up in the sky/I turned down my head and Serena smiled… and I’m born again”?
‘Life’ is everywhere: ‘Life Can Be So Beautiful’, ‘This Thing Called Life’. And music? Brother, he bloody loves it: whether it’s ‘She Brings Me The Music’ or ‘America’’s carping about “The universal language/This is music/Are you tuning in?”. Life. Music. Music. Life. Oh. Dear.
At least Des’ree knew a hook when she saw one. Richard Paul Ashcroft, on the other hand, has assembled that most ruggedly authentic of musical backings, a team of LA session players, and walked them through all of his most anodyne default settings, at a deadeningly flat pace.
Mainly, as ever, there’s plenty of the parping soul-lite where he strives for Marvin Gaye, but ends up at M People. ‘Good Loving’ is not only the most obvious culprit here, it’s a brazen retread of ‘Music Is Power’. Also forming an orderly queue on the checklist are the Big Brooding Ballads (‘She Brings Me The Music’), and the Uptempo Ballads With The Sweeping Strings Where He Talks In Positivity Platitudes (too many to list).
Despite the new name to go with his new band, he deviates from his standard solo template only twice. Unsurprisingly, these are also the only parts where he manages to bob above the morass of cuddlesomeness.
‘How Deep Is Your Man’ cops off with a bunch of Chess Records samplers to stick a bit of blues in-between the beiges. And ‘Beatitudes’, despite being the worst biblically-based pun since ‘Guess God Thinks I’m Abel’, is Richard finally fighting for his right to party – a nippy little rock’n’roll buzz that cuts
the darksome dash of ‘The Rolling People’, even if on closer inspection it’s more Embrace’s ‘All You Good Good People’.
These are rare highs, before ‘Royal Highness’ takes us to the absolute low. When RPA sings “I wanna ride in my mind ’til the morning sunshine”, it’s the sound of a hundred-million Ben & Jerry’s festivals on Clapham Common – a big blob of awful smug Saturday-morning-in-Ikea nothingness that Innocent Smoothies would reject as too cloying.
By the final track, it’s almost as though he’s deliberately inviting satire. ‘Let My Soul Rest’? No, let our ears rest. “I’ve had too much pain”? So’ve we…
But Dickie’s right. Life is precious. Life can be wonderful. Life isn’t to be wasted. So, instead of devoting 56 minutes of yours listening to RPA &
The United Nations Of Sound, why not watch two episodes of My Family back to back? There’s a bigger dose of pathos right there: a firmer grip on the realities of human emotions, and better still – you don’t have to see one of the all-time rock’n’roll greats fish for his mojo in a swamp of AOR bilge.