It's hard to imagine anyone having a higher opinion of this album than Richard Ashcroft himself. In recent interviews, he has delivered his usual line in bravado and talked up the arrival of ‘These People’ as quite the event. It's worth remembering, however, that he was similarly emphatic before 2006’s ‘Keys To The World’ put paid to what remained of his declining solo career and triggered the umpteenth revival of The Verve. It's when listening to pretty much any solo Ashcroft material that the oft repeated nickname of ‘Mad Richard’ seems so very far fetched. Whatever his personality may be, on record he is the epitome of staid mediocrity. Mid-paced, over-long chuggers have been his default setting for ages now and plenty of them can be found within this ten song collection.
‘These People’ will likely incite hyperbolic praise from those who actually enjoy Beady Eye albums, men who wear hats indoors and people who still use the phrase “mad for it.” It harks back to the ‘glory days’ of Britpop and makes being vacuous a virtue. Lyrically, Ashcroft has made about as much sense as Bobby Gillespie for twenty odd years now and nothing much has changed on that front. Platitudes and excessive repetition are the headlines in the playbook this time.
‘This Is How It Feels’ is quite pleasant, with its gently ascending melody and clichéd indie-rock strings, but it goes on for so long that its limited charms have time to wear off. ‘They Don’t Own Me’ has the country twang and waddling drum beat that has characterised Ashcroft’s album filler for years. Everything has a predictably luscious and busy sound, but the cloying orchestral emotional shorthand is so very dated. Too many songs hinge on audio quirks in lieu of proper choruses and the shortest track is still four and a half minutes long. ‘Songs Of Experience’ does posses a decent hook, but the anaemic piano bridge into it and teeth-grindingly indulgent outro dim its lustre.
Occasionally there's a gear change, such as on ‘Hold On’, which evokes those early solo singles by boyband singers who want to be taken seriously. It’s arguably the best thing here, but probably because it successfully ticks the ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’ box which may not have been the exact intention. A promotional video with a suited Ashcroft dancing to a remix of the track, seemingly without irony, is one of the funniest things you'll see this year. However, it's also a little sad. He's endearingly deluded and, of course, catnip for headline writers, but surely he can't really believe that this is remarkable, noteworthy music?
The unerringly loyal will find enough here to sate a hunger for anthemic bobbins drenched in atmospheric production, but there’s little to match the handful of magical songs for which he is known. Universal are cannily using the hype around this turgid release to draw attention to an imminent vinyl reissue of The Verve’s second album, ‘A Northern Soul’. It's a harsh comparison for ‘These People’ to endure and it is a useful reminder of why so many of us keep trying with new solo efforts. That voice. Those arrangements. He can do it. Or he could do it. He hasn’t for some time now.
Words: Gareth James
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