By James Bentley
Back on the 29th of October last year, the front man of The Verve, and one of Manchester’s very own; Richard Ashcroft released 'Acoustic Hymns Vol 1.'. The album consisted of 12 acoustic covers of some of his previous and greatest work, both solo and with the band.
For anybody who has read any of my previous work, you will know that I am very much a man of tradition. So, whenever I put pen to paper and delve into a new album, I always like to begin with the first track.
The first track on this album, and although somewhat predictable is 1997’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ from 'Urban Hymns'. However, on this occasion we will not judge because… well, it’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. I totally understand why Richard decided to introduce the album with this, and how right he was in doing so.
Not only is this the signature song of both Richard's and The Verve's career; it’s just a magnificent masterpiece from start to finish. But those famous strings throughout (made famous by Andrew Loog Orchestras’ cover of The Rolling Stones' 'The Last Time'), illustrates that this song has always shown incredible potential as an acoustic track. Combine that with the numerous acoustic performances Ashcroft has done of this song in the past, whether it be on radio stations or live gigs, it has always been certified gold dust. Suffice to say, going into an actual studio to record it didn’t impact Ashcroft in the slightest.
Where the original makes me want to take a leaf out of Richard’s book and bowl down the street passive aggressively, with a face like a slapped arse, and think deeply into the meaning of life, this version is different. It’s slower, more mellow, more intimate, the strings are still very much present, but it’s just not as in your face.
Have you ever had to let go of someone you love, because you love them, well, this version reflects that beautifully (hence, bittersweet). But where the previous version depicts feelings of anger and aggression, this version is swayed more towards, hurt, upset and acceptance. It’s the type of track that makes you want to pour an alcoholic beverage and sit alone in a room. With a smirk on your face and a tear in your eye, you reminisce on all the good times followed by the reminder that they are no more. Furthermore, the oxymoron behind the lyrics ‘I can change, but I’m here in my mould’ gets me every time, I don’t know why.
But nonetheless, although interpretations of songs can be subjective, one thing that cannot not be argued is the quality of Ashcroft's vocals. After almost 25 years, I think it’s safe to say that the 50-year-olds voice remains near to untouched.
Another song, that I would like to discuss, and again, somewhat predictable is ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)'. There are numerous reasons for why this is the case: unlike 'Bittersweet Symphony', this is one of Ashcrofts solo pieces, and it is the only track on THIS album where he has collaborated. Another bloke from Manchester apparently, Liam Gallagher I think his name is… no I’ve never heard of him either.
But in all seriousness though, this is quite an interesting track. Now admittedly, between the original and the acoustic, production wise they don’t sound too different (perhaps the original has a bit more of a beat to it). However, what this song lacks in originality, it makes up for completely on the vocals. As expected, hearing two Manchester icons on the same track is incredible (BIBLICAL as Liam would put it). As soon as the track enters the 00:20 second mark, and you feel the vocals of Mr Liam Gallagher enter your ear drums, it’s immediate chills down the spine, followed by a burst of adrenaline.
What further emphasizes the greatness of this track is the relevance of the subject matter in today’s world. Despite the easing of restrictions, we are still very much in Covid times, follow that with a government that would make Joey Essex look intelligent, it’s safe to say that we all very much still feel the presence of anxiety in our day to day lives. So, take the message of uniting and succeeding, articulate it through something as therapeutic as music, and have it illustrated by two local and talented icons that we associate with simpler times. Put all of that together and I think it’s fairly safe to say that, as the listener, for 4 minutes and 54 seconds, you no longer feel concerned or alone, but instead replenished with reassurance, and confident that everything will be alright eventually.
Furthermore, with lyrics such as ‘Where have you gone, I’ll never know / I am alive, I wanna grow’, it teaches us that, a lot of the time when you’re feeling down or depressed, the healthiest thing is to realise that what you want might not necessarily be the same as what you need.
Overall, I think these two geniuses should collaborate more often, perhaps on one of Liam’s or Oasis’s songs next time. I think an acoustic version of ‘Acquiesce’ would sound phenomenal between the two of them.
In conclusion, as much as I love and welcome anything by Richard Ashcroft, I just didn’t feel that ‘Acoustic Hymns Vol 1.’ was particularly necessary. I enjoyed listening to it, don’t get me wrong, but like I said with ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’, a vast majority of the tracks on the album didn’t really sound different from the original. My personal take on this is that many of the tracks on the album were covers from ‘Urban Hymns’, although an undoubtable timeless classic, the album itself is mostly soft rock, which doesn’t really sound too different from acoustic.
My personal advice to Mr Ashcroft if he does a Vol 2, is that he takes more songs from other Verve albums such as ‘A Northern Soul’ or even ‘Fourth’. I feel that tracks like ‘Love is Noise’ would have a lot of potential as an acoustic cover, comparable to Blur’s ‘Girls & Boys’, there is much more that I believe can be done with it.
Overall, although I’m always glad to hear and see Richard Ashcroft back; when you compare it to the likes of Liam Gallagher’s 'Accoustic Sessions’ album, I just felt it lacked any sort of originality or difference from the previous versions of his tracks.
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