United Nations of Sound
Presenting himself as the Ban Ki-Moon of pop, former Verve man Richard Ashcroft has recruited Jay-Z’s producer, Mary J Blige’s guitarist and Michael Jackson’s strings arranger (Benjamin Wright) into his new gang. Strings have always been one of his key tools, but the formula of repeating the same eight-bar phrase and emoting over it that began with ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ has become played out.
Songs such as ‘Are You Ready?’ and ‘Good Loving’ leave you crying out for development – a middle-eight would be nice, a key change heavenly. Instead, copious wah-wah solos fill time bolstered by beats that anyone with a cracked copy of Ableton could sequence. ‘She Brings Me the Music’ is a true standout, though: a proper, fleshed-out song in the vein of ‘History’ that builds into a bludgeoning wall of sound. Other interesting moments (such as the whistling break in ‘America’) are buried behind attempts by Ashcroft to overreach himself – exemplified by the tacky R&B vocals on ‘Beatitude’.