The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Richard Ashcroft
United Nations Of Sound Ash O'Keeffe , August 4th, 2010 13:06

Egotism is the force that allows a goose think he's a swan. It's also what makes Richard Paul Ashcroft perceive himself as a modern-day Oracle for the masses and believe that through music – specifically his music – love can save the world. On one level, this is touching. On another, it's misguided and naïve to such an extraordinary extent that you almost understand how this record by Ashcroft's latest vehicle was deemed worthy of release. Almost, but not quite.

Ashcroft is on record as claiming he's one of the best rock'n'roll frontmen of all time, but nothing quite prepares you for the arrogance underpinning United Nations of Sound. The album's opening track 'Are You Ready' invites a question: ready for what? The answer, it turns out, is endless tedium and clichés. The repeated references to "love" and "life" that clog the album - not to mention the proclamation that "the drugs don't work" on 'This Thing Called Life'– confirm that Ashcroft is mining the same trite themes he always has, whether with The Verve or as a solo artist.

Lead single 'Born Again' finds Ashcroft crooning: "Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection/ Love is the law pure perfection/ I'm born again, yeeeaaaah." It's all too apposite that Ashcroft should pilfer from The Doors song 'The Music's Over', because that seems to be very much the case here.

"Let's do this thing called life! Let's try!" offers Ashcroft during 'This Thing Called Life', but since these positive vibes are slathered with apparently Phil Collins-inspired sonic treacle, you're less tempted to heed the prophet's call than to fill your ears with cement to spare them any further injustice.

Elsewhere, on 'Life Can Be Beautiful' Ashcroft sounds like his knackers have been twisted in a vice as he churns out lines fit for Chef from South Park. There aren't many chat-up lines that can instantly charm your way into another's bed, but it's fair to say that the following aren't among them: "We're just selfish genes…/I wanna trip all night/I wanna keep your body right next to me now/I wanna fuck it right/I wanna real, real slow wham make it free now."

The only moments that come close to raising the proverbial fires are the rhythm and blues guitars suffusing 'How Deep Is Your Man' – reminiscent of Booker T, if you're able to block out of your mind Ashcroft's perennially out-of-tune vocal – and the track 'Beatitudes', albeit only because of the sassy female vocal that bookends the track with the lyric: "This is the beatitude/ This is the gospel truth." It also helps that the guitars aren't a stone's throw away from the psyched-out warbling in which Ashcroft's former Verve band-mate Nick McCabe specialised.

Whether Ashcroft has released this album as a joke because he is contractually obliged by his label Parlophone to produce another solo offering, or because he sincerely thought it was a good idea, is open to question. What is surprising is that even with competent musicians such as Steve Wyreman and Dwayne 'DW' Wright helping him he has managed to create a record so fist-gnawingly dreadful. He may have roped in the likes of No ID to produce this album, but it's fair to say that Ashcroft has no idea what it was that the famed hip-hopper added to the likes of Jay-Z.

Of course, United Nations Of Sound may just be another bizarre chapter in the life of a man the music press once routinely called Mad Richard. A few years ago, Ashcroft admitted that he had been prescribed Prozac, and his arrest for entering a Wiltshire youth centre and demanding to work with the kids is well documented. It's entirely possible that Ashcroft is as deserving of sympathy as he is of derision.

Either way, as the work of a man who once declared he could fly, United Nations of Sound can only be considered a crash landing.