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Richard Ashcroft – RPA & The United Nations of Sound

RPA & The United Nations of Sound

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

RICHARD Ashcroft’s RPPA & The United Nations of Sound looks set to become one of the musical talking points of the summer. So, is it a bold new direction or a disastrous vanity project from an ego gone awry?

I’d personally plumb for the former. Having recruited in No ID, a producer dubbed ‘The Godfather of Chicago Hip Hop’, Ashcroft has immediately signalled an intention to depart from the more trademark sound associated with him and his Verve guise.

True, there are still epic guitar workouts and swirling string movements aplenty, but there are also hip hop beats as well. The ensuing album sounds like what might have happened had The Verve decided to get remixed.

Yes, there are moments that don’t work quite so successfully as others. But that’s true of many albums.

Rather, this is a rousing statement of reinvention that should please his journeyman fans as well as appealing to newcomers.

Admittedly, Ashcroft’s penchant for spinning a yarn (or song) to epic lengths is here in abundance, as all songs probably go on a tad too long and invite criticisms of over-indulgence and vanity being exploited.

But Ashcroft and collaborators have always known how to add cinematic, intelligent layering to their music, even though this sometimes entails borrowing from the odd source (a la Bittersweet Symphony). But the enjoyment factor almost always remains high when Ashcroft’s on epic form.

Hence, the formula is established here early on with the string opening of Are You Ready, which drops an emphatic chorus (as if preparing his new fan-base for the forthcoming onslaught), some spritely piano arrangements and, belatedly, the odd indie-esque guitar solo.

Born Again, the album’s most recent single, is another statement of intent, a rollicking, radio-friendly crowd-pleaser that has Ashcroft defiantly pronouncing: “Now I’m a man who ‘aint afraid, I destroyed my ego just to make some space, ‘cos I’m born again.”

It’s not until America, however, that the new style really breaks through – a rapped intro giving rise to an emphatic synth movement and a kick-ass backbeat demonstrating the mix of urban and indie that makes some of the songs on the LP so striking. It’s an image makeover that works… and not what anyone could really have been expecting.

There’s a similarly emphatic back-beat employed on the more ballad-esque This Thing Called Life, which drops the guitars for a piano early on, a Prince-like vocal refrain from Ashcroft and a choir for back-up. It sounds like an odd mix, but somehow it works, even though the doubters will call it pretentious.

Beatitudes bounces brisk, handclap beats off vigorous guitar workouts to offer an unashamedly fun romp, with Ashcroft at his most emphatic and plenty of “woohoo” harmonising, as if to rally the troops for the inevitable live shows.

There’s more fun to be found on the Chuck Berry influenced How Deep Is Your Man, which follows the mix of flutes and strings that is the ballad Good Lovin’, and the celebratory Your Highness, which breezes along amid a combo of Velvet Underground guitar riffs and Tone Loc beats (and strings, of course!).

Of the less successful moments, Ashcroft’s attempts to come over all Elton John on the piano-soaked, beat-free She Brings Me The Music prove to be a folly too far, even though the string accompaniments are suitably cinematic in scope.

And Life Can Be So Beautiful belongs to Off The Wall era Michael Jackson and really has no place on this album – with Ashcroft, again, guilty of odd choices: interweaving a Barry White-style backing vocal over a ridiculously falsetto one that never gels.

That said, the majority of the album is so good and so defiantly different from Ashcroft’s norm that this is one particular ego trip that deserves to be indulged.

Download picks: America, Are You Ready, Beatitudes, How Deep Is Your Man, Your Highness,

Track listing:

  1. Are You Ready
  2. Born Again
  3. America
  4. This Thing Called Life
  5. Beatitudes
  6. Good Loving
  7. How Deep Is Your Man
  8. She Brings Me the Music
  9. Royal Highness
  10. Glory
  11. Life Can Be So Beautiful
  12. Let My Soul Rest

  1. I can’t believe you haven’t chosen Good Lovin’ to download – it is the standout track, a new symphony for anyone who liked Song for the Lovers.

    Artemizz    Jul 25    #
  2. “same pain same joy same sound America” This has to be the tune for the summer.Dont care to much for the bad reviews he’s still a british treasure and those who have judged hes latest offering need to relax and listen to the album on a long drive with the sun setting.keep it up rich !!!

    chandler    Jul 27    #