Former The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft’s fourth record, These People, an album that was ten years in the making, was a rousing comeback that saw Ashcroft take aim at the injustices of the world. Unfortunately his fifth solo record, Natural Rebel, a swift follow-up to These People, can’t even come close to recreating the iconic frontman’s best work. In fact, it feels incredibly meandering, sauntering and with limited ideas at its disposal. Like a pastiche of American 70s soft-rock, it’s a far cry from Ashcroft’s superb back-catalogue as a solo star and with The Verve. Gone is the gritty exterior, and all that stands is a soppy, formulaic mess.
For an album called Natural Rebel, it’s got about as much rebellious nature as an X Factor-produced pop band. Album opener ‘All My Dreams’ finds Ashcroft, once a voice of his generation, crooning: “All my dreams are wrapped up in you” like a manufactured 50s pop star meets Tom Petty without any of the heart. While second single ‘Surprised By the Joy’ sees the former Verve frontman try to recreate the band’s classic single ‘Sonnet’ in a song that could have at least a couple of minutes shaved off its runtime.
In fact the only time Natural Rebel has any grit, determination or character is on ‘Born to Be Strangers’, a song that sees Ashcroft loosen up and play with a genuinely entertaining riff and a vocal performance that feels like it’s finally coming from the heart. Then followed by lead single ‘That’s When I Feel It’, a grotesque pop song with an incredibly strange orchestra propping it up, it falls back into familiarly tedious territory.
Final song, ‘Money Money’, too, sees Ashcroft trying something different. An out-and-out rock track, with a growling Ashcroft snapping: “Money money make your world go round… Your riffs do nothing at all!” it’s a genuinely good rock and roll song in the vein of his Greater Manchester brothers Liam Gallagher and Johnny Marr. However, next to the soft-rock plodders on Natural Rebel its lyrical content is not only meaningless, but it comes across as hypocritical tosh.
Natural Rebel is full of overlong, pootling numbers that don’t really mean anything at all. This is the last thing you’d expect Ashcroft to make. Usually an outspoken musician on the state of rock and roll, Ashcroft has seemingly made an album he would normally be complaining about. Fundamentally basic and intrinsically void of ideas, this isn’t just a poor record, it’s also incredibly dull. Who this was made for is anybody’s idea; it’s not going to appeal to The Verve fans, or fans of Ashcroft’s solo work, it’s just going to fall into obscurity. Ultimately, it’s just a shockingly poor, and severely disappointing, album made by someone we know can do much better.