It’s difficult to think of anyone in rock’n’roll history who’s articulated the symphonic, life-altering power of music better than [a]Richard Ashcroft[/a]. His unswerving belief in its potency has enabled him to produce songs that have perfectly communicated his ongoing voyage of personal discovery. And, whatever you may have heard elsewhere, it’s a gift that hasn’t deserted him here.
‘Alone With Everybody’ is an unambiguous record. The flipside to [a]Spiritualized[/a]’s ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ album, it’s a 60-minute torrent of positivity, an open-ended love letter to his wife Kate Radley, as well as a paean to the possibilities of a life unencumbered by uncertainties. Lambasted in some quarters as a document of a man with nothing left to say, it’s actually the the opposite – and a long way from being slight or embarrassing.
Sonically, it takes its cue from The Verve which bowed out, minus Nick McCabe, at the end of 1998. Ashcroft hasn’t tried to replace or replicate the sound McCabe brought to The Verve, instead he’s moved off in a separate direction. There’s only one song here (‘New York’) that hints at the churning psychedelia of that group, and its gravity-heavy riffs and free-jazz saxophones seem largely there to mask the fact that lyrically it’s a stinker. The two singles (the strident ‘A Song For The Lovers’ and its lip-curled cousin ‘Money To Burn’) are also misleading, because the real heart of this record lies elsewhere.
With BJ Cole‘s enveloping pedal-steel well to the fore, ‘Alone With Everybody’ offers a millennial update on Gram Parsons‘ cosmic take on country music. There are at least five songs here where Ashcroft uses that tranquil sound, buttressed by chiming strings and glowing choral interludes, to reach the kind of profound emotional clarity which he often achieved with The Verve.
It’s there seeping through the unashamed romanticism of ‘You On My Mind In My Sleep’ and ‘Slow Was My Heart’, as well as on the LP’s strung-out ruminations on mortality (‘Everybody’ and ‘Brave New World’). The last of which is one of the best things he’s ever written, a worthy successor to ‘A New Decade’ and ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, and a song presumably composed with his father in mind (“I hope I see you on the other side”). It’s only when he strays from this blueprint – ie, on ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’, that he plunges into murky water.
At a time when music is still struggling to extricate itself from a rut, and visionaries remain conspicuous by their absence, ‘Alone With Everybody’ remains a beacon of light. Ashcroft‘s newly discovered stability has done nothing to blunt his powers of communication or reduce his belief in the apocalyptic potential of music. It might initially require a leap of faith, but there’s enough here to justify taking that chance.