Release Date: Oct 19, 2018
Record label: BMG
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Richard Ashcroft may regard himself as a natural rebel but the music on his new album is thoroughly unadventurous. His fifth solo outing (not counting the pseudonymous RPA & The United Nations of Sound debacle) mainly cruises at a pedestrian pace straight down the middle of the road. It's a far cry from when he was front man of The Verve riding the crest of Britpop in the ’90s, though Natural Rebel does contain echoes of those glory days.
Perhaps the title Natural Rebel echoes the title A Northern Soul, the 1995 album that established the Verve not just as a weird, ambitious rock band but one with commercial ambition, but that's where the comparisons end. If the Verve spent their career striving to achieve undetermined heights, Richard Ashcroft is content with comfort within his solo recordings, reviving sounds he never acknowledged during the period where he was known as "Mad Richard." Certainly, the Ashcroft of Natural Rebel is anything but mad. He's sober, serene, and sophisticated, never bothering with a swift tempo when a dirge will do.
A sack full of 'Sonnets', this fifth solo album finds the Wigan wonder sounding almost like a pastiche of himself If any man is keeping the faith in solid Noel-rock song-writing, it's Richard Ashcroft. This fifth solo album - the follow-up to 2016's rousing comeback album 'These People', which was 10 years in the making - is the noble sound of one cosmic romantic trying to make sense of this crazy, messed-up world with just the acoustic guitar, the odd orchestra and full choir that still-healthy '90s royalty cheques allow. Whereas 'These People' was Ashcroft's state-of-the-world address, tackling the wars, riots, revolutions, online trolling and media lies he'd been watching from his basement studio, 'Natural Rebel' is a sackful of 'Sonnets'.
T here's no shame in drivetime. Drivetime music has a job to do, and its success or failure is gauged by whether it performs that job: does it comfort? Will it soothe you in an endless jam and uplift you on an open road? Music that comforts is much undervalued, because its virtues seem so everyday. So it's not intended as criticism to say that Richard Ashcroft's fifth solo album is a drivetime record: it slides past the window like a sunlit wheat field.
Earlier this year Clash caught Richard Ashcroft onstage in Finsbury Park, holding thousands upon thousands of people in the palm of his hand. A sneaky support slot with his old compadre Liam Gallagher, the short acoustic set was completely solo, a raw run-through some old hits, songs that scorched a mark on millions of lives. It led to the obvious question: If Liam Gallagher can haul himself back from the abyss, then why not Richard Ashcroft? The mercurial frontman of The Verve, the man once dubbed Mad Richard and blessed with one of the finest voices to touch a microphone during the 90s.