Richard Ashcroft and the United Nations of Sound – United Nations of Sound

Release Date 19/07/2010 (Parlophone)

By Chris Gilliver

Are You Ready Richard Ashcroft tells instead of asking in album opener – note the absence of a question mark. I’ll do you the courtesy of phrasing the next sentence in the form of a question. Are you ready for a song that lasts 6:33 and is as boringly repetitive as it is baselessly arrogant?

The Verve could write great songs, but never finish them without a protracted outro unnecessarily dragged along with evangelical zeal by Mr Ashcroft. Lucky Man and The Drugs Don’t Work, for example, would both have been far better without the final two minutes of soulful intonation. So imagine an album made entirely of such outros and you end up with United Nation of Sounds. Are you ready for that?

The first three tracks rush along in this manner. Each song crafted to capture an epiphany like a gospel choir reaching up to heaven. It takes you to purgatory, leaving the listener waiting for a moment of genius that never comes, hoping for the beginning of the next song, which feels like it’s never going to come. They build to crescendos of guitar solos, wailing and rocking that sound confused and messy. It makes for hard listening – the silence in between the tracks coming as a welcome relief.

That is until This Thing Called Life and Good Lovin’ whose amateur philosophy titles belie simple ballads that charm far more than they annoy. In these we catch a glimpse of an earlier more thoughtful Ashcroft struggling to breakthrough the ego.

How Deep Is your Man borrows heavily from Satellite by The Brian Jonestown Massacre. This is a good thing. For one track the United Nations of Sound takes a trick from BJM’s repertoire where no note is wasted and if it does not add to the track it is left out. One of this album’s main problems is that most of the notes are wasted, confusing rather than augmenting. The recorded lead guitar parts in particular should be completely removed from the album, pushed down a well, cemented over, and possible nuked for good measure.

Worse still the album as a whole is massively over produced. Lushly lavished with orchestration, drum machines, wails, guitars (as already mentioned) and synth effects the basic songs are given no room to breathe. A cynic would say that such instrumentation is used to drown out substandard song writing. Either way the result is something that is somewhat claustrophobic.

It’s interesting that Richard Ashcroft did not not reveal himself in the artist name when the promo went out, preferring to use his initials. Judging by the album’s born again Christian vibe he clearly hopes that this is seen as evidence of a positive departure from The Verve’s most recent demise. But he may end up using this as a way of distancing himself from an album that is as grandiose and over the top as it is devoid of creativity and quality. Are You Ready for the disappointment United Nations of Sound will surely unleash? Maybe, but get some valium in just in case.

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