March 13, 2003

Lost the Verve?

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Hype can be a good thing, but for bands like The Verve, it’s what kills a budding career. After their first release garnered minor hits and positive reviews, some critics began labeling The Verve as the “last great rock band of the 20th century.” The Verve’s third and final album, Urban Hymns, was the group’s biggest success, offering a solid set of songs including the masterful “Bittersweet Symphony.” Yet persisting conflict within the group and the mounting pressures to produce another hit caused The Verve to disband in 1999. So what is the former frontman of the last great rock band of the 20th century to do? For Richard Ashcroft, releasing a solo album was most appealing.

His solo debut, Alone with Everybody, revealed a greater spiritual depth to Ashcroft’s songwriting skills, and his recent release, Human Condition, is a continuation of his inquisitive, soul-searching journey. The album is a reflection of Ashcroft’s views on the ways of life and a higher power. But that’s just the problem; Ashcroft feels the need to explore all his thoughts on spirituality, human interaction, and life’s pain and struggle in each and every song on the album. It’s a difficult task to accomplish in eleven songs, and Ashcroft can only achieve this in a very scattered inconsistent, free-flowing manner.

The first song, “Check the Meaning,” is a jazzy soulful track of epic proportions; eight minutes long to be exact, and full of the gospel according to Richard. In it, he confirms that God is female, the need for world peace, and his agnostic beliefs, among other things (yes, all in the same song.) The soft and mellow “Buy it in Bottles” follows, in which a Tom Petty-sounding Richard sings, “I know you can buy it in bottles/ I know you may find it in pills/ I know it all very well,” about the false sense of fulfillment in substance abuse. “Science of Silence” is highly ambitious and tries way too hard to be sentimental, not to mention the fact that the keyboard intro is almost an exact knock-off of the main musical line from “Lean on Me.” Continuing this trend, “Running Away” is an emotional track with bittersweet trumpet and piano, but has elements that feel borrowed as well. As Ashcroft should be aware, the line similar to “There’s a killer in me and a killer in you,” can also be found in the Pumpkin’s “Disarm.”

The standout song of the album is — surprise — the bonus track, “The Miracle” (isn’t it funny how last minute studio recordings or tracks that weren’t supposed to make the final album cut can be so brilliant?). The song has a fitting bass line and makes light of life’s ups and downs. “Gonna be a long, long road