Richard Ashcroft’s first step away from The Verve, 2000’s Alone With Everybody, yielded catchy Brit-rock tunes like “A Song For the Lovers” and “C’mon People,” as well as pretty ballads like “Brave New World” and “You On My Mind In My Sleep.” But there was nothing as quite indelible as his old band’s ubiquitous “Bittersweet Symphony.” Nothing on his latest effort, Human Conditions, quite gets there either, but it is fun to listen to Ashcroft try.
Even better is “Paradise,” which does the best job of building momentum, featuring Ashcroft’s soulful vocals sung over the pretty murmur of a French horn.
It’s not all good news, however. The busy percussive elements and noisy guitars of “Bright Lights” make it sound confused. The piano-based “Running Away” is too sleepy. And, “Man On A Mission,” despite a terrific chorus, has really pedestrian lyrics. “God In the Numbers” is spacey, new age gospel music that will try your patience. Ashcroft keeps things simple and soulful on the verses in “Lord I’ve Been Trying,” but it ultimately seems like all build and no resolution.
Despite all the God and Lord references throughout, it’s actually a tune called “Science of Silence” that comes closest to inspiring. Ashcroft gives it a sharp pop swagger as he sings, “We are on a rock spinning silently / But I’m safe when you’re here with me.” The record’s penultimate track, “Nature Is the Law,” similarly sounds like some hippie anthem from the ’70s with an incongruous Beach Boys-like backing chorus courtesy of none other than Brian Wilson himself.
Human Conditions is the sound of Ashcroft searching for personal and spiritual connections and seeking higher truths in soaring pop choruses. All this existential meditation leaves us, like him, ultimately unfulfilled.