RICHARD ASHCROFT Alone With Everybody (Hut)
The artist formerly known as Mad Richard presents his first solo album for our delectation, the genesis of which can best be summed up by noting that as the last Spiritualized long player, "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space BP" was an open love letter from Jason Spaceman to his ex-girlfriend and keyboard player Kate Radley, so "Alone With Everybody" is an open letter from Ashcroft to his new wife and mother-of-his-son, er, Kate Radley. So, as if you need to be told, this is a comfortable, satisfied record. After years of struggling against commercial indifference and fractured band relationships in The Verve, Richard Ashcroft has finally arrived at a state of relative normality, which seems to compel him to make music that sounds, well, normal.
The album "Alone With Everybody" reminds me of most strongly is Bernard Butler's debut, perhaps not coincidentally also a record made by a famed indie guitarslinger hero who split from the paycheque gravytrain at the height of his powers. There's the same aura of classic rock being filtered through the dark sunglasses of alternative chic, but still wardrobed in enough sensible attire to snag the thirtysomething Ikea coffee table vote. In addition, Ashcroft has two tricks in his kit bag of which he is particularly fond, those being B J Cole, the steel guitarist who propped up the disintegrating Verve through their final concerts, who appears on eight of the eleven tracks here, and Wil Malone's twiddly string arrangements. Both conspire to drown what could have been some fine songs under a thick dollop of glutinous syrup. It seems almost criminal to hear the man responsible for some of the greatest songs of the last decade reduced to peddling the second-hand "Wild Horses"-isms of "You On My Mind In My Sleep", or the late-period Oasis-style rabble rousing of "C'mon People (We're Making It Now)".
"Alone With Everybody" isn't a bad album per se - it'll pootle along pleasantly in the background at your next dinner party, just like "Dj Vu" would have done thirty years ago - it's just bitterly disappointing arriving from a man of Ashcroft's titanic talent. Happiness might be easy, as the mighty Talk Talk once claimed, but it doesn't make for spectacularly exciting music.
RICHARD ASHCROFT Check The Meaning (Hut)
Rescued from the ignominy of Asda's 1p clearout bin, could there be some correlation between the price of this DVD single and the current state of Mr Ashcroft's solo career? On the evidence of "Check The Meaning" the song there could be something in the hypothesis, being little more than a witless parody of his former band's glories. Imagine a curdled "Lucky Man" drowned in inappropriate quantities of mystical lyrical spice in a failed attempt to disguise the essentially reheated nature of the offering. "Mohammed, Allah, Buddah, Jesus Christ are knocking down my door", he reports somewhat ungrammatically, and I'd wager some of that frankincense that they're complaining about the terrible, whining, pasty-sounding post-Britrock coming from behind it. "I'm like a fish with legs" he explains at one point, neatly summarising his relevance in the evolutionary scheme of things in 2003.
It would be nice to report that the accompanying promo video clarifies matters a little, but it would be a lie. Ashcroft wanders through some stock black and white street scene footage, guided mysteriously towards a Lynchian infant figure with a penchant for hanging out in dumpsters. His meeting with same mysteriously compels a crowd to appear from nowhere and attempt to push a building around the soundstage. Hmmm thanks for that. (And why, exactly, does this production merit a Parental Advisory Explicit Content flash? Something to do with the health and safety nightmares that could occur should wide-trousered teenagers attempt to skateboard whilst listening to these soporific melodies?)
Finally, there's an acoustic version of "You On My Mind In My Sleep" recorded at the 4Scott tribute concert, which would be worth the entire penny all on its own had the disc's, well, its got to be said, penny-pinching producers not faded the performance abruptly exactly two minutes in. Madness, in at least two senses of the word.