On the surface, this will thrill cagoule-clad lovers of lush, strumming acoustic rock romance everywhere. Below the surface, it’s a churning maelstrom of death, riots, revolution, terrorism, two-faced politicians and the media surreptitiously manipulating the masses. In such say-nothing times, it’s a huge relief to welcome back a brooding, babbling quote-machine such as [a]Richard Ashcroft[/a]. He’s slid back into the left-leaning folk rock world with this fifth solo album after six years cut off from the modern world of demanding smartphones and innocuous timeline fillers. Sat in his basement studio, he’s been watching the decade’s global brutality unfold and formulating his deceptively seditious new comfort listening.
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So opener ‘Out Of My Body’ may be a plush electro-pop groover, but the synthetic sound of falling bombs points to its true meaning. “Don’t go looking for your Watergate,” Richard snarls, decrying the mainstream media’s complicity in distracting the public from their leaders’ plain-sight corruptions before widening the net: “Who employs you? Baby, they’ll exploit you… free of control, the way I like it”. ‘Hold On’ is undoubtedly the first freeway electro-rock song about tear gas and pepper spray being lobbed around at the Arab Spring protest and riots. The ‘Sonnet’-esque title track tackles the inherent human compulsion to put others down that’s turned the internet into such a turbulent troll nest, while ‘Black Lines’ – this album’s ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, inspired by the death of a close friend – faces the depressive’s struggle to make it through the long, hopeless nights until dawn. Rarely is a record as melodically sumptuous as a folk-rock Proms and as packed with substance as a Wikileak.
Although ‘Ain’t The Future So Bright’ touches on the vocoder rap inflections of 2010’s ‘United Nations Of Sound’, ‘These People’ is the solo record most aligned to Ashcroft’s Verve peak, right down to employing the same string arranger and bunging on one gigantic romance anthem, ‘This is How It Feels’. It’s both a grandmaster lesson and an antidote to the current crop of insipid singer-songwriter mulch, the sound of Ashcroft charging into the acoustic rock youth centre and showing them how it’s done. “I’m feeling like a number one again”, he sings; it’s a better bet than Leicester winning the league.