A much-needed twist...
Victoria Dillingham

09:45 19th July 2010

Scepticism was evident when rumours surfaced that Richard Ashcroft had teamed up with Jay-Z and Kanye West’s producer for his new long-awaited solo album. Visions of The Verve’s front-man sporting an Ali G-styled canary yellow shell-suit complete with medallions naturally sprang to mind. However, fans will be pleased to hear that despite enlisting the help of the Chicago’s godfather of hip hop, No I.D there is no truth in the aberration and his new offering, ‘The United Nations of Sound’ points to anything but a transition into hip hop or RnB.

Recorded in LA, New York and London, the album is the first to be released under his new clique, RPA (Richard Paul Ashcroft) and the United Nations of Sound, which comprises of a hotchpotch of session musicians including, Mary J Blige’s guitarist, Steve Wyreman, Paul DW Wright (bass) and Derrick Wright (drums).

The album begins with the pre-released and aptly entitled, ‘Are You Ready’, which in typical Ashcroft fashion opens with a dramatic orchestral intro, before the singer’s unmistakable vocals kick in. A digestible track, once listened to easily forgotten, which disappointingly never really gets started and does little throughout to become more than a background noise.

Next up is ‘Born Again’ which once again boasts a showman intro, this time of the electric 80’s rock variety, and a predictably consistent guitar riff which is accompanied by well positioned harmonies. This combined with repetitive backing vocals, similar to Beatles classic, ‘Hey Jude’ makes it a likely hit for radio and an obvious choice to accompany the album’s launch.
Ashcroft sings; “And when I feel a melody, I get a righteous charge right through me” but at this point in the album you’re still left desperately seeking this as a listener especially with ‘America’, ‘This Thing Called Life’ and the cringe-worthy, ‘Beatitudes’ to follow.

It's not until mid album - track 6 to be precise - that you’re delivered a piping hot serving of the more soulful and directive Ashcroft that we love and recognise, in the form of ‘Good Lovin’, a melodic and orchestral infused track which not only showcases Ashcroft at his most addictive, but also highlights the work of Benjamin Wright, better known for his string arrangements on Michael Jackson’s album, ‘Off The Wall’.

Ashcroft introduces an element of American blues to the album with ‘How Deep Is Your Man’ a 1960s style track which borrows it’s key chords from Johny Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom’. You’d be hard pushed not to enjoy the likes of ‘Royal Highness’ and ‘Life Can Be So Beautiful‘, on which Grammy Award-winning, Motown mixer, Reggie Dozzier (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye & Outkast) firmly stamps his mark. Both tracks see Ashcroft experiment within a whole new genre to produce a sound outside of his or indeed The Verve’s domain.

While I don’t suspect he’ll have Motown greats knocking at his door to collaborate, it gives the album a much-needed twist and repositions the artist, who is lucky enough to count Coldplay’s Chris Martin among his fans, as a less staid and more open and experimental musician.
A stand out track on the album, is the beautifully simplistic ballad, ‘She Brings Me The Music’ which frames Ashcroft in his most natural state, as a Ivor Novello Award Winning songwriter who can evoke emotion at the deepest level as proved with his previous works such as ‘Sonnet’ and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’.

Critics may be quick to dismiss this album, as a commercial punt for Ashcroft or an overt attempt to re-launch himself within a non-generic more commercial setting. However, those who listen without any preconceived ideas or any naïve expectations of yet another ‘Urban Hymns’ are likely to draw something from it they like.