The Captain Returns
Richard Ashcroft’s These People In Review
By J. Adams
Few rock ’n’ roll icons are so resented by so many of their longtime fans as Richard Ashcroft, former frontman of space rock legends The Verve. Having thrice broken up the band for a mostly underwhelming solo career, and released four flawed albums that amount to promising demos for potentially brilliant Verve songs, Ashcroft has long since exhausted the patience of many who miss the shamanic intensity of old, back when he would still work with artists as gifted as his former bandmates.
Ashcroft’s fifth solo LP, These People, just released after a six-year hiatus, may not change the haters’ minds: it’s inconsistent as per usual, and no doubt would have been better with input from Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, and Pete Salisbury. But taken on its own terms, it’s a rich and rewarding record that demonstrates why Ashcroft is still grabbing headlines and selling out gigs nearly 20 years after “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and Urban Hymns ushered in his brief heyday.
He sounds fantastic, for one thing—Ashcroft’s voice and articulation have become more bruised and nuanced over the years, deepening a magnificently emotive instrument that gives gravity to his wide-screen philosophizing and mostly outshines occasional lapses in songwriting and production. Unlike the bloodless arrangements of previous solo albums, or the blunt overcompensation of 2010’s failed R&B crossover United Nations of Sound, the collection strikes a generally tasteful balance between Ashcroft’s usual acoustic singer-songwriterisms and comfortable retro-electronica with French producer Mirwais, who has worked with Madonna and Fischerspooner, framed with longtime collaborator Wil Malone’s elegant string arrangements. And much of the album was recorded in Ashcroft’s basement, lending the songs a warmth and intimacy beyond most of his prior work.