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Richard Ashcroft

Natural Rebel


Dec 19, 2018 Richard Ashcroft Bookmark and Share

It’s not verboten for a rock star once trading on his working-class roots to make goodliving in a bucolic country manor with a family and garage full of fancy automobilesand still want to put out music. However, perhaps the posturing and proclamations of being the best lyricist, when clearly there are deficient moments on Natural Rebel, does Richard Ashcroft no favors.

On the otherwise passable “Streets of Amsterdam,” he emotes: “You could be Yoko and I could be John/We’ll stay in bed and they’ll ban the bomb,” at it’s best anodyne and worst, lyrically banal. Or: “I’m a man in motion/All I need is speed,” on “A Man In Motion.”

The former Verve frontman is best known for “Bittersweet Symphony” off Urban Hymns, their third album. In 1997, it helped the Wigan-band crossover and earned them mainstream success. Preceding that was their debut Storm In Heavena cult masterpiece that modern listeners weaned on a steady diet of psych rock will appreciateand follow-up A Northern Soul. You can trace their debt to seminal Greek band Aphrodite’s Child’s “The Four Horsemen” and prog rock. With the brief departure of guitarist Nick McCabe, The Verve started to shed their shoegazey sonic signature and lost much of their early mysticism. What remained, evolved into the epic string orchestration of “Bittersweet Symphony,” and timeless radio classics “Drugs Don’t Work” and “Sonnet,” all contained on Urban Hymns (which McCabe did return for, after work on the album has already begun). A humble Ashcroft performed these recently on a U.S. tour with Liam Gallagher. Stripped back with only an acoustic guitar and devoid of his ego, these songs had lost none of their resonance.

Still, it was The Verve’s early work that prompted the Gallagher brothers to laud Ashcroft and Noel Gallagher to dedicate “Cast No Shadow” off their (What’s The Story) Morning Glory to their fellow Northern brethren. Unfortunately, it’s also what many believe was the undoing of Ashcroft’s brilliance. Back then, like the Gallagher brothers, Ashcroft could mouth off on his prowess as they all rode the last wave of Britpop’s braggadocio lad culture. Today, however, it just feels like shtick.

Why is this, his fourth solo album, called Natural Rebel? There’s no whiff of rebellion here. Perhaps, it’s because he hasn’t succumbed to electronica? This is a rootsy album of pedal steel guitars, orchestral flourishes, and rather sweet songs of a happy life. When an artist has given us soundtracks to our youth and failings, we afford them an enormous amount of goodwill and do not begrudge their good fortune. Natural Rebel is not without it’s shine. Moments of happy love are rarer in pop than unrequited love but when delivered well, especially in Ashcroft’s god-given northern rasp, it can transcend. “That’s How Strong” is one such contender.

Others in this sweet spot are the Springsteen-like strum and gentle rock of “All My Dreams,” the steel pedal and strings combo of “Birds Fly,” and the lovely “That’s When I Feel It”somewhat reminiscent of The Killers circa Sam’s Town.

Ashcroft has none of that edge anymore, apart from his ability to continually ruffle the feathers of morning show hosts and spew insults at critics who don’t sing his praises, yet Natural Rebel, in spite of his idiosyncrasies and self-aggrandizement is an easy album to enjoy. Just don’t pay attention to every lyric. (

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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December 24th 2018

With the brief departure of guitarist Nick McCabe, The Verve started to shed their shoegazey sonic signature and lost much of their early mysticism.

Robert Tom
August 26th 2020

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