Richard Ashcroft: His Five Best Solo Moments
Richard Ashcroft is probably best known to most as the frontman of 90s rock group The Verve, responsible for towering hits like 'Lucky Man', 'The Drugs Don't Work' and the Rolling Stones-sampling 'Bittersweet Symphony', but the band had already split once by the time they recorded their most commercially successful album, 1997's Urban Hymns, and split again after the resulting tour, citing a breakdown in the band's internal relationships, particularly between Ashcroft and the band's guitarist Nick McCabe.
A third, short-lived reunion followed in 2008, accompanied by the band's wryly-titled fourth album Forth, before the band finally split for good. In the years in between, Ashcroft has released a number of solo albums and spawned hits of his own, as well as popping up from time to time as a guest vocalist with other artists like U.N.K.L.E and the Chemical Brothers. Following the third and final split from The Verve, Ashcroft released one more album in 2010 under the moniker RPA & The United Nations of Sound - basically an Ashcroft solo outing disguised as a band featuring some L.A. session musicians and, interestingly, produced by legendary Chicago hip-hip producer and mentor to Kanye West, No I.D. However, reviews of the album weren't exactly glowing and when he stormed from the stage at 2010's Splendour in the Grass festival after just one song - telling the audience he was going to watch The Pixies instead – some fans were left wondering if this would be the last we'd see of Mr. Ashcroft. And for a while, it was.
Now though, six years on, Ashcroft has returned, head freshly shaven and brandishing his fifth solo album These People. Speaking to The Guardian last month, Ashcroft summed up his six-year absence in characteristic fashion: “There's no point writing a suicide note like Kurt Cobain. If you haven't got it, take a break.” Explaining that he's spent the last few years 'breaking himself down and building himself back up', Ashcroft admitted that the desire to make music had left him for a while, with the Wigan-born singer asking himself the question: “Do I really have something to offer, or am I just adding more shit to the pile?”
Evidently, he's decided on the former. The new album features 10 brand new tracks and sees him reunite with producer Chris Potter as well as Wil Malone, the man responsible for all those lush string arrangements on The Verve's Northern Soul and Urban Hymns. Recorded at Metropolis and released on his own Righteous Phonographic Association imprint (via Cooking Vinyl), the album has already yielded two singles in the form 'This is How it Feels' and 'Hold On', both of which stand up against the rest of his solo material, albeit with a slightly more polished sound.
Whether the rest of the album will do the same is for his fans to decide, but you can listen for yourselves to 'This is How it Feels' below. Beneath that we've picked five of Richard Ashcroft's finest non-Verve moments as a reminder of what he's all about...
'A Song For The Lovers'
Originally written for – but not included on – The Verve's 1997 master work Urban Hymns, 'A Song For The Lovers' is Ashcroft at his best, with a swooning melody and an upbeat arrangement that would soundtrack any summer's day. Not usually known for his cheery disposition, this is as happy a song as you'll ever hear from him.
'Lonely Soul' (U.N.K.L.E)
Some of Ashcroft's best moments outside of his former band have come by way of collaborations or guest appearances with other artists and this is one such example. Featuring on Psyence Fiction, the debut album from James Lavelle & DJ Shadow's side-project U.N.K.L.E., 'Lonely Soul' is one of the album's highlights and Ashcroft lends his distinctive voice in fine style here.
'Keys To The World'
Possibly one of the most overlooked tracks in his post-Verve career, the title track to his third solo album, 'Keys to the World' is a melodic wall of sound with Ashcroft lamenting the harsh realities of life, while offering hope in the face of adversity.
'C'mon People (We're Making It Now)'
This cut from his first solo outing Alone With Everybody may owe more than a little bit to The Four Tops' 'Reach Out (I'll Be There)', but a tune is a tune and next to 'A Song For The Lovers' this was undoubtedly one of the highlights of his debut album.
'The Test' (Chemical Brothers)
Our final pick is another of those collaborations we mentioned earlier and, in our humble opinion, this is the best of the bunch. Featured on the Chemical Brothers brilliant fourth album Come With Us, Ashcroft is one of several guest vocalists on the record but he puts in a star turn on 'The Test' and it's up there with the best things he's ever been involved with.