The chances are that you’ll be aware of this record. It has not been received kindly and any subsequent review must be aware of the elephant in the room. There he is, strutting round in shades and a leather jacket. Most of what you have heard is true. Everything about the new album by Richard ‘just call me RPA’ Ashcroft is utterly, completely and totally ridiculous. The name of the band, the concept, the music, the songs and, oh boy, the lyrics – all of them absurd. Why, then, do we find ….. so unexpectedly enjoyable?
It all rests with Ashcroft himself. Right from his early days as Mad Richard he believed he was destined to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world, a state of affairs that Urban Hymns almost delivered. Nothing that has happened since – his faltering solo career, the disastrous third coming of The Verve – has dented that belief. For Ashcroft, ridicule is truly nothing to be scared off.
On those terms, the teaming of a indie vocalist with a group of R’n’B musicians makes total sense. Not that this is an urban record in the modern sense. Ashcroft’s new band are very much playing to his tune. There are a few beats in there but in general Timbaland doesn’t have anything to worry about as musically we’re on familiar ground.
That particular ground means 12 songs, all but one over four minutes and many nudging the six mark. ‘Get Ready’ sets the tone from the off, all gratuitous epicness and ham-fisted spiritual lyrics. It shouldn’t work, it doesn’t really work but somehow it’s hugely satisfying. And that’s just the start. There’s a song called ‘Beatitude’, the line “six strings, three chords, one truth” and a direct steal from Muddy Waters. All the time, Ashcroft hollers in a dodgy American accent. For all this, though, that absolute conviction just about carries the whole thing through, that and some great tunes. The kind of record that only a man who barges into youth clubs to lecture on the power of music would have the guts and will to make. And as hard as that might be to believe, that’s no bad thing.