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An Ashcroft Of Himself

Speaking of Grunge, just after its demise with Cobain, the British band The Verve appeared to emerge in the early 90s, with a spookier, more stately, psychedelic sound, anchored by the prophetic crooning of that most angular of singers, Richard Ashcroft (right) who was to the cheekbones born - a genetically-determined frontman if ever there was one.

For a time (and that time was brief, and over by '99) Ashcroft seemed to some a true original and a possible heir to the Cobain mantle: driven, overwrought, fully-engaged with the vision thing. Well, maybe that's stretching it, but The Verve is surely one of the best 90s bands.

Ashcroft was recently described (at Live 8) as "the world's greatest singer". Now he has launched his third solo album, since his band's break-up. This time, it is called Keys To The World. I wanted it to be better, but wishing won't make it so. It is really mediocre, with overblown moments that gesture at grand feelings and ideas. I love this sort of yearning thing, usually, and salute Ashcroft's ongoing mission to deify "lovers" and curse the crazy mixed up world we all live in - I also enjoy his quasi-deistic impulses.

Several songs are very good, really - especially the tortured, Marlboro-voiced "Sweet Brother Malcolm" which oddly pays homage to 70s classic "C'est la Vie" - it wrings every possible tear, citing the "broken-hearted", "house arrest", and "madness" amid violins.

No, the album is nothing if not ambitious (although it retains all the stylistic effects from his previous albums): it soars and and swoops, rattles and rolls, but like a dove in a cement mixer.
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