Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
With just a few weeks remaining until he releases his highly anticipated fifth studio album These People on May 20th, we think it’s a fine time to revisit the musical legacy of Richard Ashcroft, one of Albumism’s most beloved singer-songwriters. While your average, moderately knowledgeable music head will immediately associate him with his former band The Verve’s massive 1997 hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” more devout Ashcroft evangelists know that his prolific recorded repertoire runs so much deeper than his band’s most recognizable single.
Together with his schoolmates Simon Jones (bass guitar), Nick McCabe (lead guitar), and Peter Salisbury (drums), The Wigan, England born Ashcroft formed The Verve in 1990 (Simon Tong joined the band from 1996 to 1999). Three years later, the group released its critically acclaimed debut LP A Storm in Heaven, a hypnotic song suite defined by its sweeping arrangements awash in distortion, reverb, and vocal effects in abundance. Their follow-up effort, 1995’s A Northern Soul, found the band abandoning their more experimental proclivities in favor of noticeably more accessible and melodic fare, including a trio of singles (“This is Music,” “On Your Own,” and “History”) that rank among the finest songs to emerge during the British Rock resurgence of the mid-90s.
Though the band briefly split a few months after A Northern Soul's release, the break thankfully proved ephemeral and they soon returned to the studio to record once again. The Verve’s career watershed arrived in the summer of 1997, with the release of their third album, Urban Hymns. Initially propelled by the ubiquity of lead single “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” but also owing to the fact that the album as a whole is a masterpiece of exquisite musical vision and expertly executed songcraft, Urban Hymns became one of the biggest selling and most critically applauded British albums of all time.
Due to intra-band conflicts, the band dissolved a few years after Urban Hymns’ heralded release in 1999, but reconvened for an ephemeral reunion between 2007 and 2009 to record, release, and tour behind their fourth album, the cleverly titled Forth. During the band’s eight year hiatus, Ashcroft launched and nurtured his solo career, delivering three excellent albums in Alone with Everybody (2000), Human Conditions (2002), and Keys to the World (2006). In 2010, under the moniker RPA & The United Nations of Sound, Ashcroft released his fourth LP, the underappreciated United Nations of Sound, which showcased a denser, more beat-driven sound relative to its precursors.
“I wouldn’t trade what Coldplay have achieved for any of my songs,” Ashcroft recently confided to The Guardian. “I know Chris would probably give up a certain amount of his kingdom for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’” Indeed, as his comments about his friend Chris Martin reinforce, Ashcroft’s enduring charm and inescapable dynamism are defined in large part by the ambition, confidence, and pride he exudes when it comes to the music he makes.
The latest installment of our “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series collects 65 of Ashcroft’s finest moments on record with The Verve, on his own, and with collaborators such as DJ Shadow and James Lavelle (on UNKLE’s “Lonely Soul” from their 1998 album Psyence Fiction). “This Is How It Feels” and “Hold On,” the first pair of singles from These People, are also included. The mix concludes with Oasis’ “Cast No Shadow” (1995), which Noel Gallagher wrote with his kindred musical spirit Ashcroft most prominently in mind.