Richard Ashcroft – Keys to the World

By on Monday, 6th February 2006 at 1:23 pm

It seems recently that everybody here in the UK has been harking on about Richard Ashcroft’s return for a while now since his near-legendary Live8 performance with Coldplay last July. The 35 year old has just released his third solo album, “Keys to the World” which seems to have bought him back from the desert of British music. Famed for his 1997 “Urban Hymns” with his band “The Verve”, Ashcroft has always failed to match its classic status and epic tunes, and whilst some claim this new album is a return to form for the man from Wigan, it still has a while to go before he writes a new “Bittersweet Symphony” or “Drugs don’t work”.

Album opener “Why Not Nothing” is a stomper that gives you the feeling that he’s returning to form, with the catchy refrain “why not, why not, why not nothing?” and gives us the idea that he’s back from the abyss and back on form. It appears to be an anti-religion rant of sorts, commenting on “Machiavellian tricks” and “God squads” with a surprising vigour and urgency. However, it never seems to go anywhere, just sort of fading out, about a minute after it should have, and much the same can be said about the second track of the album, “Music Is Power”, which is very much a standard album track.

First single of the album, “Break the night with colour” is perfect stadium filler, with a catchy chorus, yet is still very much a B-list Richard Ashcroft song in comparison to “Lucky Man”, “Drugs Don’t Work”, “Bittersweet Symphony”, “Sonnet”, “History” et al. However, I have a distinct feeling that he’ll never be able to match these epic masterpieces, and this is only confirmed as the album plods on through “Words Just Get in the Way”, “Cry til the Morning” and “Sweet Brother Malcolm”. In between these filler tracks, there are a few notable songs, which will probably be singles, or the more stand-out tracks of this album.

Perhaps the standout track of the album comes in the middle of the album at track five, with the song with the same name as the album, “Keys to the World”, with the orchestrated, multi-layered sounds seeping through spectacularly. This will most likely be one of the next singles from the album, and is the only one that comes close to the stadium rock status of “Break the Night with Colour”.

“Why do Lovers” is a funny track. No, not funny ha-ha, just funny-strange. It seems to be a ballad of sorts, with epic strings and melodic pianos, however it just doesn’t sound right, with bitter undertones of a guy who’s just be dumped. The wailing/moaning at the end seems altogether unnecessary too, but that’s just a personal preference.

Album closer “World keeps turning” seems to chronicle a self-proclaimed return to the top with such lyrics as “It’s been a long time since I’ve been around here,” and “All my blocks every night I try to figure out what’s wrong or right.” Whilst this is a relatively strong song in the album, it’s perhaps lost at the end of the album, with a distinctive end-of-film-credits-rolling feel to it, and some people would have probably given up around “Why Do Lovers” missing out on this, the third best song of the album.

Overall, a stronger showing from Ashcroft than his previous two albums, however still not as good as “Urban Hymns”. However, increasingly I think he won’t be able to match the spectacular epic-ness of that work, so this could be the best we hear from him.

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