A career low from the one-time Verve frontman...
'Natural Rebel'

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.

Sadly new album ‘Natural Rebel’ dashes these hopes. It feels staid, played out, and more than a little boring; despite Ashcroft’s pleas for energy, it feels absolutely zonked out, the wire-thin production helmed by the songwriter himself.

And perhaps that’s where he’s gone wrong. Whereas Liam Gallagher’s solo debut was marked by the embrace of new voices, fresh songwriting partnerships, ‘Natural Rebel’ is Richard Ashcroft going it alone, but it’s a Xerox, of a Xerox, of a Xerox of a template he has long since exhausted.

‘All My Dreams’ is an insipid Dire Straits chugger, while ‘Birds Fly’ feels like a country-tinged effort distilled from the very bottom of the whisky bottle.‘Surprised By The Joy’ fails to raise the pulse, while ‘That’s How Strong’ is – somewhat predictably – one of the weaker moments on the album.

At every turn there are faint signs of former glories, but these are painfully eked out, with elements of sunshine cast over by looming clouds of stodgy arrangements and fraught production elements. ‘We All Bleed’ is an aural shrug, ‘A Man In Motion’ fails to break the speed barrier, and ‘Streets Of Amsterdam’ feels lost amid the murky canals of the Dutch city. I

n the press note Richard Ashcroft promises: "All my favourite sounds distilled into something that will hopefully give my fans lasting pleasure. It is for them. Music is power."

If this is a present for fans then you have to wonder what these long-suffering people have done to deserve such a fate.

4/10

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