Richard Ashcroft ‘United Nations Of Sound’ – Review

29 Jul

So The Verve reformed only to split up again last year. In between they made a very average album, a decent single and played a few lacklustre headline shows. If one good thing came out of the reunion it’s that you were reminded just how many classic singles they released back when they were great. A bad thing about the reunion ending is that it means we will get yet more self-righteous solo albums from Richard Ashcroft – the first of which has just been released.

The album begins with a swarm of strings that can’t help but remind you of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. It’s a double-edged sword, the opening, because on one hand it reminds you just what Richard Ashcroft is capable of at his best but at the same time it’s pretty damn obvious that ‘Are You Ready’ isn’t even in the same league as that song. It’s as if Ashcroft is putting his medals on display, only the medals are nearly two decades old and just remind you that he hasn’t won anything in a long time.

The hip hop beat featured prominently on ‘America’ will make both rock fans and hip hop fans cringe and Ashcroft’s bizarre delivery (of terrible lyrics) adds insult to injury. The most bizarre part though is the fact that by the end I was starting to enjoy the song, it’s strangely likeable. Less forgiving though is Ascroft’s attempts to be a soul singer on ‘This Thing Called Life’ – he is naturally a soulful singer which makes it even more frustrating that he strains his voice so much on this song. Again, this is actually a pretty nice song, it’s just a shame it was dealt with in such a heavy-handed manner; we all know Ascroft is capable of stunning subtly (‘The Drugs Don’t Work’) but it seems like he has forgotten that.

‘Beatitudes’ is as bad as it’s title (‘wow that must be bad’ you’re probably thinking – it is!), ‘How Deep is Your Man’ is actually alright (despite another terrible title) and ‘She Brings The Music’ is probably the nicest thing on here. The strings on the album are beautifully arranged by Benjamin Wright,the man who has worked with Michael Jackson, Outkast, Justin Timberlake, Quincy Jones and The Temptations – it’s a shame then that far too often the rest of the production sounds like a swamp with tacky r&b drum beats on top.

This isn’t wholly bad, it does have some redeemable features. It aspires to be such a grandiose album that you can’t help but admire Ashcroft’s ambition. But as is often the case, the higher you aim the further there is to fall, and here Ashcroft and the band fall pretty hard. ‘She Brings The Music’ proves that he can still write brilliant songs when he writes as himself, but most of this sounds like a bad imitation; He imitates a rapper, soul superstar, blues legend and even of himself – or the old him. ‘United Nations of Sound’ is nearly an hour-long and the time drags for at least 45 of those minutes. It’s a mess but at least it’s a spectacular and fairly joyous mess, I’ve heard worse bad records in my day – if that makes sense!



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