REVIEW: Richard Ashcroft - 'These People' (Cooking Vinyl Records)

Former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft hasn't made a great album that I've enjoyed all the way through for nearly 20 years now. His previous outing from 2010 (as RPA and the United Nations Of Sound) saw him trying to "do an Ian Brown" and incorpororate hip hop and electronic influences into his sound. It was an artistic and commercial disaster. Six years on and he returns with a slightly more traditional record, his fourth solo album 'These People'. 

Although it reached number 3 in the UK album charts, the LP is not a great success musically. Opener 'Out Of My Body' is a highlight that impresses with its 90s dance vibes, but he doesn't even manage to make it past the first song without mentioning his mind, a subject of typical Ashcroft lyrical cliche. Lead single 'This Is How It Feels' is a mopey orchestral ballad that exudes enough charm and warmth to satisfy, while the laid-back 'They Don't Own Me' steps into 'Urban Hymns' territory and despite being a grower, is a needlessly overlong. 'Hold On' boasts the album's most infectious hooks and would be one of Ashcroft's finest musical moments were it not for the ill-fitting, cheap-sounding digital production that hampers the song. A stripped-back acoustic version recently played when Ashcroft played a session for Radio 2 brings out the best in the song and is the recommended alternative. The closing 'Songs Of Experience' is a bit of well-crafted songwriting where the Wigan songwriter abandons his comfort zone during a hazy, disco-flavoured chorus.

Elsewhere, things descend into a middle of the road snoozefest. The title track is Ashcroft on auopilot, serving up dull country rock, 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Hurt' is noticeably uninspired, and the tiresome and dreary 'Picture Of You' is where the sound of the album truly wears thin. 'Black Lines' is a drippy ballad that comes across as another flat attempt at revisiting 'Urban Hymns', and the solemn emotional drama of 'Ain't The Future So Bright' soon slopes off into a verse that plagiarises U2 and a chorus that offers up some ridiculous autotuned vocals. 

Overall, it's still a long way off the quality of the music that made The Verve so great in the 90s and shows an artist stuck in something of a limbo: boring and repetitive when he sticks with his familiar sound, awkward and unsuitable when he tries something new. 5.5/10