Those of us still longing for the bulging-eyed Richard Ashcroft of A Northern Soul-era Verve will have to accept he’s put those days behind him. That said, there are moments on Natural Rebel where you can picture the veins standing out on his neck like the shamanic incarnation of old. He’s a more relaxed, measured presence these days for the most part, but the passion still bubbles to the surface on the anthemic All My Dreams and rocking closer Money Money, the latter his feistiest solo cut to date – T. Rex-meets-Stones overdriven guitars grinding away in the background as Ashcroft rails against sell-out musicians. The upbeat Surprised By The Joy is lifted by lush strings, while the funkily choppy guitars of Born To Be Strangers drive one of his strongest songs since his former band parted company for the second time. The Gothic soul of We All Bleed also impresses – it’s a rare return to the bleakness of his best mid-90s work, such as Verve B-side The Crab and, of course, The Drugs Don’t Work. Even the cracks in weaker cuts such as the country-tinged Birds Fly are papered over by those extraordinary vocal cords.
Written by Steve Harnell. Released on BMG.