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Richard AshcroftRichard Ashcroft
Album: These People
Label: Cooking Vinyl
Tracks: 10

Now, here's a man with a history… and if you need it explained then you probably won't make it to the end of this sentence. Having made his camp at the flakier end of British alt rock as baggy started to morph into Britpop and launched a band called Verve on a stream of guitar solos and lysergic excesses, he cut his hair and ditched the endless guitar solos, drafted in the definite article and with The Verve created some of the most memorable, meaningful and era-defining songs of the mid-90s - The Drugs Don't Work, History, Bittersweet Symphony, Lucky Man, Sonnet…

His subsequent solo career has been equally mercurial - the highs and lows may be less extreme in the 21st century but they remain a feature of Ashcroft's endearingly inconsistent output, encapsulated not so much in his last album, the uniformly scorned rock-rap hybrid United Nations of Sound, but in the half-hearted Verve reunion whose one 2007 album appears to have provided an unexpected blueprint for Coldplay's continued success.

Still, such is the lot of the visionary and a Richard Ashcroft record delivered without equal measures of self-doubt and self-belief would not be anywhere near as intriguing a proposition as this first new album in six years evidently is.

Between its well-turned grooves Ashcroft's exploration of soulful dance music in a rock context continues apace - so the singles Out of My Body and Hold On arrive with whomping great four on the floor beats that shake the cobwebs with the promise of something that (for these ears) never quite arrives. The slower fuse employed on They Don't Own Me and This Is How It Feels fares better, but is hampered by the unfortunate handicap of channeling some of Chris Martin's more irritating stretches for euphoria.

All of which creates a bittersweet periphery around the heart of the record - the run of more sparingly produced songs that carry the listener through the second half. The title track offers a jaundiced view of wasters and tastemakers even as it proclaims the return of its creator - "I feel like I'm number one again," he sings - perfectly paving the way for the absorbing Everybody Needs Somebody To Hurt before the more redemptive calls to arms that is the album's stand out track, Black Lines, a stadium anthem crying out for a venue in which to work its charm.

A mixed bag then, but what did you expect? Let's not bandy about banal platitudes about national treasures, but it sure is good to hear from one of British music's coolest flag wavers. His participation improves us all.

Nick Churchill