Richard Ashcroft: Alone With Everybody

Richard Ashcroft

Alone With Everybody



SOMEHOW, EARLY NINETIES Britpop accelerated the rock 'n' roll aging process for its crop of young talent, resulting recently in various unnatural attempts at maturation. Perhaps shedding baggage from the youth- and drug-obsessed Madchester explosion, so many weary vets seem intent on replaying the Seventies. Guitarists like Suede's Bernard Butler leave their successful glam bands to make "wiser" singer-songwriterly rock. They settle out in the country, reflect on the years of excess, and jangle dusty Gibson acoustics.

"Mad" Richard Ashcroft made his name as the excessively cheekboned frontman for the stormy Verve, a group that couldn't seem to stay together but scored a worldwide hit nonetheless with the widescreen epic "Bittersweet Symphony." The naturalism of the group's final album, Urban Hymns, was quite different from the hypnotic improvisations the young group had sculpted. In fact, it began as an Ashcroft solo effort. On Alone With Everybody, Ashcroft completes his transformation from a man possessed, riding Verve guitarist Nick McCabe's psychedelic storm, to a man self-possessed, ready for FM, all his verses and choruses neatly in place.

On Alone Ashcroft pursues his interests in soul and straightforward groove rock, with nods to the work of the Walker Brothers, Burt Bacharach, the Faces, and (when it twangs) Gram Parsons. Like the confessional songpoets of the Seventies, Ashcroft sings autobiographically, convinced that his life changes and his newfound married satisfaction are more engaging than the rants of the leaner, crazier years. And while the single, the Spanish-guitar-tinged "A Song for Lovers," may be slightly overwrought, Ashcroft's heart is in ballads, such as "On a Beach," in which he counts his lucky stars for how well things have turned out with the wife, the baby, and the recording contract. With its lush setting--strings, trumpets, piano, and occasional slide guitar--Alone With Everybody could have been schmaltzy and airheaded. Instead, its commitment is palpable, if still slightly unhinged--rather like the man himself.