Urban Decay

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

response.

"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.