Well, you heard the man, so let’s keep this simple. ‘Keys To The World’ is Richard Ashcroft’s third solo album, following July 2000’s ‘Alone With Everybody’ and November 2002’s ‘Human Conditions’. He wrote its ten songs (which last 44 minutes) over a number of years, but recorded most of them over a few days in Richmond, West London.
In the gap since his last release, Ashcroft and his wife Kate had a second child. Ashcroft also signed to Parlophone following the disintegration of Hut, the label he’d been with since making his recording debut in 1992. That was as the wired, shamanic frontman with Verve, a psychedelic rock band he’d formed with three mates at Winstanley College in Wigan. The band eventually changed their name to The Verve and, in 1997, released their third album ‘Urban Hymns’, which spawned a clutch of global hits (notably ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’), sold seven million copies and, no bullshit, defined an era.
But we digress. What else happened in those three years that Richard Ashcroft’s been away? Well, although he’s a Manchester United fan, Ashcroft watched with immense pleasure as his hometown club Wigan Athletic, with whom he played as a junior, have risen to Premiership prominence. But he’s also watched with enormous displeasure as politicians have spun out of control, wars have been waged, terrorists have terrorised and a depressed apathy has settled on the world.
While the rasping, soulful voice on ‘Keys To The World’ is unmistakably Ashcroft, the music, always hooky, always melodic, ranges from the raw rock stomp of opener ‘Why Not Nothing?’ and the harpsichord swagger of first single ‘Break The Night With Colour’ to the Curtis Mayfield-sampling swing of ‘Music Is Power’, the muscular groove of ‘Keys To The World’ and the Dylan-esque chime of ‘World Keeps Turning’.
At Live 8, by way of introducing Richard Ashcroft, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin described The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ as “the best song ever written, sung by the best singer in the world.” That was probably a little soapy for Ashcroft’s taste, but ‘Keys To The World’ proves, perhaps more than any of his solo work to date, that those rare talents continue to burn inside him.
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||Manchester Evening News Arena