In-keeping with the theme of rather recent music, we're staying in the last year or so with former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft's last record Natural Rebel.
Way back when this column first started, we reviewed The Verve's fabulous and signature Urban Hymns (You can find that review here: https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/album-of-the-week-the-verve-urban-hymns) and it's fair to say that even twenty-one years after that, Ashcroft is showing no signs of slowing down. Natural Rebel sees him in familiar territory, but that's no bad thing and is worth taking note of as we run through this sterling album.
All My Dreams gets us started with a clean-sounding guitar hook, backed with some well-timed drums and Ashcroft's signature tones can be heard all over. There's a certain country feeling, along with a lot of other songs present here, but this lack of musical adventure is countered by the overall sentiments of the collection of songs present. Birds Fly, with its pedal-steel opening and overarching acoustic guitar, allows Ashcroft's vocal to fly in a similar vein to This It How It Feels from his previous solo effort, These People, his first for a number of years. It's a good-sounding song, there's no doubt, and Ashcroft going back to his musical roots only helps it along.
Surprised By The Joy is one to be proud of, right from the outset. It's a lot more jovial than its predecessors, and sounds brilliant both in the studio and live, acoustic or electric. There's a real uplifting quality to it that makes it a real foot-tapper. With its strings backing, there's a bit of Verve coming through here, and the prevailing acoustic sound makes this all the more prevalent and welcome. That's How Strong is perhaps more emotional than Surprised By The Joy and continues where The Drugs Don't Work and Sonnet left off really; its light electric guitar backing is complemented by the harsh usage of the bass drum that makes this particular track rather special.
Born To Be Strangers demonstrates Ashcroft's signature swagger and attitude, similar to that of Liam Gallagher in a way. Since the two are from the same era and great mates, this comes as no surprise. The more staggered vocals work well with the song's rhythmic drums and its guitar solo fits in well with this out-of-sync feeling, similar to a Beatles deep cut What Goes On from the Rubber Soul album. That's When I Feel It continues the swagger, opting this time for strings instead of acoustic guitar, providing something different on this rather good record.
We All Bleed slows this album right down, with something a bit more wholesome, allowing Ashcroft to show off his abilities to hold notes brilliantly. This slower pace really does demonstrate his versatility as an artist. Much like Coldplay last week, Natural Rebel sees Ashcroft combine some fast-paced stompers with more full-bodied compositions like this. A Man In Motion is perhaps rather similar to This Is How It Feels, but is a little lighter overall. Its stripped-back feeling really brings out Ashcroft's vocal and the subtle electric guitar works brilliantly in conjunction.
Streets Of Amsterdam is one of two fantastic songs that round off Natural Rebel. Its overall sound is similar to that of an early John Lennon record, with its subtle, piano-driven exposition filtering behind the guitar and drums rather nicely. Ashcroft even references the former Beatles frontman during the course of the song - "You could be Yoko and I could be John, yeah/We'll stay in bed and they'll ban the bomb, oh yeah." Money Money acts as Natural Rebel's last hurrah, opting for a gritty guitar sound, backing Ashcroft's seething vocal perfectly.
Natural Rebel really does act as a showcase for Richard Ashcroft, showing numerous reasons why he's one of the best songwriters of his generation. From the punchy rock right down to the slower and more emotional compositions, it's a sterling release, and shows that even after all this time, Ashcroft can still fire on all cylinders brilliantly.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/32XumeK
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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