The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Aug. 28, 2000
The Soul of Richard Ashcroft
The former leader of The Verve opens up his heart in solo debut.
By Michael Goldberg
"Into the brave new world," Richard Ashcroft sings in a song that swipes its title from Aldous Huxley's dark, half-century-old tale of the future. "Hope I see you on the other side."
The former Verve frontman's debut album, Alone With Everybody (Virgin), comprises mostly beautiful, moody ballads, including "Brave New World." The song sets the tone of an album focused entirely on the present and the future Richard Ashcroft is too young, and has too much to do, to dwell on the past.
During the '90s, The Verve emerged from England with a potent, undisciplined psychedelic-rock sound, refined over three epic albums A Storm In Heaven, A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns and a string of singles that included the amazing "Bitter Sweet Symphony," the culmination of their time together.
Ashcroft learned plenty during those years, about songwriting, about music production, about what makes a song live. Along the way, faced with a near-total absence from the British airwaves of the music he wanted to hear, he decided it was time to make some himself.
Wanting to hear something on the radio that was real, something that touched his heart, he wrote such British hits as "The Drugs Don't Work," as well as the international smash "Bitter Sweet Symphony."
Alone With Everybody takes it all to another level. With no need to concern himself with bandmates' opinions, Ashcroft has taken an auteur role, lovingly crafting an album full of nuanced touches, most noticeably the shimmering space-age sounds floating through most of the tracks.
Much of the disc is about love "...it's a crazy world for a mixed-up boy and a mixed-up girl...," he sings in "Crazy World." "A Song for the Lovers," the leadoff track, is the first single, already a hit in England. One young woman told me she can't stop playing that song and the romantic "I Get My Beat" : "I get my beat with you/ When we see things through /And I think about you all the time."
This is an album for lovers and for everyone else who still holds out hope for something better, in their life and for this world. "C'mon people we're making it now, yea, yea, yea.../ If only you could be with us," he sings in "C'mon People (We're Making It Now)."
Ashcroft has created a soundtrack for a film that doesn't exist, telling the story of two lovers trying to make their way through the modern world. "I wanna grow," he goes on in "C'mon People...": "And there are so many things I can do/ Just like falling in love with you/ So take my hand now/ Understand it/ You can come here too."
The album is a throwback to another time, although I'm not really sure when that might be. What I am sure of is that Ashcroft has made timeless music, a kind of British soul music that offers up an idealism not often heard in these hard, cynical times. But don't think Marvin Gaye or Aretha when you hear "soul." When Ashcroft and others describe the music here as soul music, they mean that it is music of the soul deep, powerful and intense.
"Brave New World," one of my favorites, begins with just a gently strummed acoustic guitar, joined quickly by drums, bass, keyboards and even a touch of pedal steel. "Hope I see you on the other side," Ashcroft repeats over and over, as the music builds.
I'll be there.
In The Game
Hepcat, Push 'N Shove (Hellcat): They may be L.A. all the way, but cue up this album's title track "Push 'N Shove" and you'll swear you're listening to Jamaica's Heptones. And that's no dis. The heyday of Jamaican ska is long over, but Hepcat stay true to the tradition and in doing so, make it their own. Other standouts include "Daydreamin' with a swingin' sax solo from Efren Santana, and a lovely ska interpretation of Brenton Wood's late '60s soul hit, "The Sign" (here re-titled "Gimme Little Sign").
At The Drive-In, Relationship of Command (Virgin): Just a heads-up that when this awesome, rockin' album from At The Drive-In is released in mid-September, you wanna seek it out. It's edgy, alternative, with plenty of melody and energy. And with song titles such as "Pattern Against User," "Mannequin Republic" and "Rolodex Propaganda," you know you can't go wrong. "One Armed Scissor" is currently up for my Top 10 Songs of the Year list.
Iggy Pop, New Values (Buddah/Arista): The most underrated album of the Ig's career has just been reissued on CD in America, and it's about time. First out in 1979, New Values may be the best Rolling Stones album the Stones didn't record (the other being the Flamin' Groovies' Teenage Head). The tracks are lean, tough, guitar-driven rock. Iggy's voice is deep, mature, yet playful. Go directly to "I'm Bored" for the definitive Iggy mindset, then go back to track one, "Tell Me A Story," and listen straight through. Crank up the volume and prepare to have your mind blown.
Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.
© 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.