Richard Ashcroft is set to release his new album These people, after six years of silence. The first single This is how it feels treads on familiar territory from the singer’s career and has received positive critical reception. This calls for a look back at some of the greatest musical moments Richard Ashcroft has been involved with.
1. The 1992 Verve EP showcased a band that had no trouble in playing off each other while building sprawling musical landscapes. She’s a superstar and Gravity grave put brilliant guitarist Nick McCabe center field . The songs feature his trademark spiraling, atmospheric guitar sounds and the group’s love of using contrast and dynamics.
2. The Verve’s fist album, A storm in heaven was released in 1993 and received great critical praise. Commercial success for the band did however build slower. A storm in heaven showed the strength of the Verve in crafting neo-psychedelic songs drenched in a sea of sound.
3. Northern Soul was the album that had to deliver on the initial promise of their debut. By 1995 Britpop had become very successful and was being exported by Britain to the world. While equally as good or better, The Verve shared only superficially in elements that defined Britpop. Oasis, Blur or Pulp were their peers and the general themes of their music seemed to have more to do with British way of life, while the Verve focused more on self reflection. Northern soul did share one thing with the likes of Oasis and that was confidence. The band’s sound here was more focuses and their ability of writing great songs had significantly increased.
The rest of Northern Soul sounded like a band on the brink of drugged, crazed exhaustion. But even as the sound gets murkier, the band’s drive is clear through the chaos.
4. After releasing their second album, the Verve split up. Spoilers: it would not be the last time. Creative and personal differences were rumored to have existed for a while. The Verve seemed destined to become a long gone legend from that point onward. Richard Ashcroft started working on his own songs that showed more of an interest in earnest, personal songwriting, but also in creating a dense wall of sound from drum loops, samples and other other electronic elements. He soon had the Verve back together recording what would be Urban Hymns, their 10 million juggernaut.
Their first single and arguably their most famous song was Bittersweet symphony. The song is moved by a trip hop beat, the familiar backing of the band and Ashcroft singing as if leading the group into spiritual ceremony. It was one of the most successful songs from the Britpop era, although sounding little like their contemporaries. The song was so successful in fact that it got played in movies and ads and the people owning the rights to music the Verve had sampled battled the band in court over the songwriting credits.
Lyrically the song seems to describe the Verve’s career up to that point. The sound of bittersweet triumph. A band destined for greatness and always on the verge of self-implosion. A band who’s vision and scope seemed to be only outdone by themselves. The Verve were already one of the greatest bands in the world, but for a while they were also one of the biggest.
5. Symphony was one from a collection of great songs that made up Urban Hymns. In a way the album is one of the greatest records of it’s time. Taking the elements that had made the Verve great, the sound of the group is beefed up by samples and beats. The result is a sound that is strong and vibrant enough to stand to any club song, pop song or rock song of that time.
Ashcroft’s lyrics and the band’s playing is as passionate as it ever was throughout their career. The songs are played with the urgency of a band living it’s final days. In the end, in terms of scope Urban Hymns still sounds like an album ahead of it’s time. Not necessarily because of the elements that make up the record. Britpop and trip hop are after all associated almost exclusively with the 90’s. But the Verve had managed to become one of the world’s greatest bands by bringing all these elements together seamlessly.
The album featured another three singles that were heavily played on radio and television. One of the best and most tender moments in the Verve’s catalog was The drugs don’t work.
6. And just as they were at their peak, both commercially and creatively, the Verve split up again. Richard Ashcroft went back to his original plan that he’d abandoned in the wake of Urban Hymns. His first album featured his British hit single“A song for the lovers.
7. The follow up album Human conditions, opened with the much underrated Check the meaning.
8. Keys to the world was Ashcroft’s best solo album to date. The sound was gentle yet powerful, confident but questioning. Break the night with colour was the singer’s biggest hit in years.
9. Words get in the way is all around one of the best songs that Ashcroft had been involved with in his career with some of his most soulful singing.
10. Then the Verve reunited for one album only to quickly go back on “holiday”. The album did feature the single Love is noise sounding every bit as desperate and on edge as the Verve had in the past. Few bands have had the ability to catch this sort of tension and have it recorded.