Keys To The World

Richard Ashcroft

Virgin Records US, 2006

REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane


For those not closely attuned to the British pop scene, Richard Ashcroft may just be a name that makes some say, “Ashcroft? Wasn’t he, like, some government dude or something?” Well yes, yes he was. His first name was John though. Most casual American listeners who are now in their early twenties do in fact know who Richard Ashcroft is – they just don’t realize it. He was the lead singer and chief songwriter of The Verve, who came around at the height of the Brit-Pop explosion in the mid-nineties. The Verve were over before they even started, and all they really managed to squeeze out in the states was “Bittersweet Symphony,” which is still a radio favorite on both sides of the Atlantic. So it may come as a surprise to most stateside record consumers that Keys To The World my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is Richard Ashcroft’s third solo record since The Verve’s disband.

This album finds Ashcroft at home, just sort of relaxing with his thoughts – none of his solo work has the same British grit that The Verve were so good at producing, but that has mostly to do with timing. That same British-grit would sound dated on any record released in the year 2006. This is an older Ashcroft and a wiser one. It is becoming clear that Ashcroft could be one of those songwriters who may never release a groundbreaking or seminal record, just one who will release consistently decent ones for as long as he is making them.

The album’s opener and first single, “Why Not Nothing?” is the most upbeat tune of the ten songs on Keys To The World. The rest, typical of Richard Ashcroft, fall nicely into place, making the record an excellent “anytime” spin. “Music Is Power” is blissful, radio-friendly pop that makes perfect use of his trademark, symphonic-seventies, Elton John-esque string section. The strongest song is the title track, which is unmistakably British and one of the better songs in his entire catalogue. Lyrically speaking, Ashcroft has never been anything special; what sells the words is the voice – he has arguably one of the most beautiful voices in rock music today. This is why he can get away with lines like, “Music is power/Let it flow through your mind/Just like a flower, in the deep sunshine.”

Even if Richard Ashcroft is consistently good, and he is, Keys To The World is by far the weakest of his three solo records: not because the songs aren’t good –  they’re fine –  but  because they aren’t nearly as spellbinding as the ones on his other records.  One thing is for sure: Ashcroft is as inspiring here as he always is. In England, he is an artist who is held in extremely high regard and for good reason. Check him out on the most recent Live Aid DVD –  he’s almost God-like, as if he is the only “real” rock star on stage. But if someone was only going to be able to buy one Richard Ashcroft record, then this is not the one to get. Keys To The World is a record for the fans.

Rating: B-

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© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records US, and is used for informational purposes only.