On his latest solo release, The Verve’s frontman Richard Ashcroft sounds as worn out and beaten as the genre he blossomed from. It takes a special kind of man to release an album so littered with entitlement, but Ashcroft managed that with absolute ease on Natural Rebel; perhaps all those days he spent looking at himself in the mirror and doing cocaine to pretend he’s cool have caught up with the once idolised songwriter.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, because it’s 2018 and we all have better things to be doing than listening to a Richard Ashcroft album; it’s not 1995 anymore. The man renowned for creating one of the best selling albums of all time with The Verve (Urban Hymns) is often recognised as one of this country’s great wordsmiths and songwriters. While that was certainly the case in his heyday, what is heard here is nothing short of surface level vomit over bland instrumentals.
Throwing some simplistic string sections behind an acoustic guitar and a singular drum beat doesn’t work as a song formula; it DEFINITELY doesn’t work when Ashcroft’s voice sounds like it does on Natural Rebel. There is such a distinct lack of imagination in literally every single song on this album, it is as one-dimensional as it gets, both vocally and instrumentally. On Surprised by the Joy, the only thing I was surprised about was the lack of any sort of joy this song offers, while Birds Fly made me want to make like a bird and fly far, far away from this god-forsaken piece of work.
Calling this album a complete dud would be doing it a disservice, however, as there is a genuine and obvious concept here. That concept is one of pomposity and haughtiness. Ashcroft often refers to himself as the album’s title on here; a personal favourite of mine is the bafflingly egotistical line: “A natural rebel, here I am, but some of you won’t understand.” What our dear old grandfather Richard is saying here is that us mere mortals cannot begin to apprehend how CRAZY his lifestyle is. Whether that be dropping a bag of cocaine on live television and then denying it with the most pathetic ‘diss track’ I have ever witnessed, or hopping over the sofas on a BBC Breakfast Show to cling onto your youth; none of us are truly ready for the life of the hateable rogue.
The crazy thing is, I quite liked a few songs off Richard Ashcroft’s last album, it sounded like he still had soul and passion to create music his fans could enjoy. This latest album was described as a ‘gift to the fans’ by Ashcroft; well if these are the sorts of gifts he gives out to people he cares about, then I have to wonder what people have done to deserve such offensive, lacklustre garbage. Pack it in Rich, lad; remember the good times and just accept that the world has changed. Wandering round in your shades and bootcut jeans thinking you’re cool, when in actual fact you’re about as cool as Theresa May cutting shapes at the Conservative Party Conference. To quote a famous man who Richard may well be familiar with, “the drugs don’t work”.