Swaggering down the street as an unwavering force in his wallabies in the video to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, Richard Ashcroft burst onto my radar in 1997 and I have been a fan since. Ashcroft is a man on a journey; his journey. As an artist he commands respect and in an era full of singer-songwriters singing about nothing of matter his return is a welcome one. After a six year absence, during which time commercial music has continued to slide further into a pit of excrement, the question arises: Is the new album from the brooding, straight talking Ashcroft going to kick the parasite laden corporate music industry up the arse and shake-up the scene once again?
Notably These People was produced by Richard and long-time collaborator Chris Potter, as well as marking a reunion with Wil Malone, who worked alongside Richard on the string arrangements on A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns as well as his outstanding solo release, Alone With Everybody. With Damon Minchella (OCS/Paul Weller/Family Silver) contributing on bass and Steve Sidelnyk (Style Council/Blow Monkeys amongst others) once again involved, the release of These People is the first album of the year to truly excite this writer.
‘Out Of My Body’ opens the album with a strum of the guitar alongside the opening vocals, “out of the darkness, you save me”. The synths quickly kick-in and the sound of the pre-album singles is evident. Refreshing and reinvigorated, this is music to dance to and would not be out of place on an Ibiza dance-floor. Lead single ‘This Is How It Feels’ follows and hooks in the listener with an anthemic vibe alongside lyrics with connotations of heroin use (“straight for my veins”), surviving and coming out the other side (“now I’m back home again”). ‘They Don’t Own Me’ is a return to the Ashcroft of old with dreamy strings floating alongside slide guitar, with the vocals shining in a big chorus destined to be serenaded back at the stage from fans at upcoming gigs.
Second single ‘Hold On’ is a cracking rally call with a mentality of us against them, “I feel like we are the only ones alive” alongside “til you get some pepper spray, the water cannons on the way”. Title track ‘These People’ is reminiscent of earlier Verve work as the former front-man reflects on life’s negative influences without really getting to who these people actually are. Lyrically ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Hurt’ continues the reflection on societies negative traits, while ‘Picture You’ is a haunting last man standing track conceiving a feeling of complete desolation. Despite the title, the string filled chorus of ‘Black Lines’ restores hope overcoming struggles of a real life that makes no sense as the track ascends.
The ten track album closes out with ‘Songs Of Experience’, as Ashcroft engages and stresses his continued relevance: “You’re like me, your scars are like your badges”, and then answers his own question, “how do you know these things?…. these are songs of experience”. An uplifting album energised by a freshness that will appeal to fans of old whilst attracting some new from a generation robbed of real troubadours. These Days is an invigorated wake-up call, a war-cry on a commercial music scene robbed of the talented and disaffected upcoming musicians who are denied air-play for lack of coin. Kick their arses Richard, hard!
These People is out now via Cooking Vinyl.