Guess it's time for the vision quest again. Another talented one-time
frontman this time, it's the Verve's Richard Ashcroft
has gone in search of solo glory. What he's found out with the release
of Alone With Everybody, though, is that freedom can be an unruly,
undisciplined thing. Call it a case of show and don't tell.
It's a condition that has saddled Mick Jagger, David Byrne, Scott Weiland,
Chris Cornell and a host of others in their solo debuts. It just goes
to emphasize that with good groups, the whole usually is not just bigger
but also better than the sum of its parts.
Following suit, Ashcroft's maiden solo voyage, Alone With Everybody,
has great sounds, including strings, vocal overdubs, country twang and
hypnotic drum patterns. Like most Verve songs, the melodies soar. They're
rich. They float. "A Song for the Lovers" (RealAudio
excerpt), for example, is a heavenly mix of synth-pop and modern
Brit-pop, with a wash of guitars competing against a swarm of keyboard
effects, horns and echoing drums.
But unlike the Verve's final album, 1998's stunning Urban Hymns,
there's almost no drama to be found on Alone With Everybody. The
tension that rises from the former's crafted air of conflict
spare vs. overwhelming (as on "Sonnet"), reserved versus outraged,
indifferent vs. cathartic ("Lucky Man") just doesn't exist here.
The songs don't turn corners, and they fail to elicit any real emotional
"New York" (RealAudio
excerpt), for example, is plodding, bass-driven junk that bops
along for five-and-a-half minutes. It dips into the self-indulgence
that one has come to expect, unfortunately, from projects like this:
"There's no time to unpack here/ It's discreet out on the street/ If
you have no inhibitions/ This city was built for me." Blah.
In other instances, Ashcroft just misfires, wasting songs that might
have been something had he enlisted the help of his former collaborators.
It seems clear after listening to this album that Verve guitarist (and
Ashcroft foil) Nick McCabe and producers Chris Potter and Youth provided
the important grounding that Ashcroft's songwriting needed. Urban
Hymns was balanced, not dragged down by excess. McCabe and company
must have prevented Ashcroft from getting carried away.
Ashcroft certainly does get carried away on "You on My Mind"
(In My Sleep) (RealAudio
excerpt). The melody is gorgeous, the music is midtempo and
grand and the song deserves a straightforward, soulful arrangement.
What it gets instead is overkill: strings in unnecessary parts and a
warmth-numbing layering of vocals.
He gets carried away, too, on the uncharacteristically cheery "I Get
My Beat," which could have been a great, breezy summer song but instead
goes on for six laboring minutes. The same holds true for "Brave New
World," on which the chorus ("I hope to see you on the other side")
pounds the listener into submission.
Yes, Richard Ashcroft has a vision. What he lacks, however, is a focus.
Without his creative mates to guide him, he falls into the bandmember-gone-solo
conundrum and Alone With Everybody falls with him.