RICHARD Ashcroft has always had a knack for melody. A way of illuminating the eternal struggle of life, in all its complications and contrasts, with sweeping beautiful tunes.
Case in point was his band The Verve's iconic 1997 single Bittersweet Symphony, which expressed the bleak reality of working-class life with a lush Rolling Stones-sampled strings section.
Ashcroft's most recent contributions Natural Rebel (2018) and These People (2016) failed to excite, but Acoustic Hymns Vol.1 proves the 50-year-old remains a potent vocalist.
Acoustic Hymns Vol.1 features 12 reworkings of Ashcroft's most beloved material. Naturally the collection leans heavily on The Verve's classic third album Urban Hymns and his early solo albums Alone With Everybody (2000) and Keys To The World (2006).
The newest track is This Thing Called Love from his 2010 side project United Nations of Sound.
Fans of '90s Britpop will be listening purely for the dream collaboration between Ashcroft and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher on C'mon People (We're Making It Now). The pair are arguably two of the best British rock voices of the '90s and both paddle in far calmer waters these days than in that halcyon decade, and that's evident on the energetic slab of pop-rock.
Bittersweet Symphony is probably the biggest disappointment. The original is so powerful and with Ashcroft's new vocal phrasing it struggles to reach similar heights.
However, some of Urban Hymns' lesser known moments like Weeping Willow and One Day shine through brighter with The Verve's trademark psychedelic instrumentation stripped away to fully expose Ashcroft's warm melodies.
Lucky Man stays fairly true to the acoustic-driven original, while The Drugs Don't Work becomes even more haunting as a late-night piano ballad.
Long-time fans of The Verve will be disappointed none of the Wigan band's earlier material like This Is Music, History, On Your Own and Slide Away wasn't attempted, but overall Acoustic Hymns Vol.1 is a fine remainder of Ashcroft's legacy.