RICHARD ASHCROFT

Human Conditions

(Virgin)

Ex-Verve man's second solo symphony proves a lot more "bitter" than "sweet."

Was the Verve this boring? After several listens

"/>

CD Reviews

RICHARD ASHCROFT

Human Conditions

(Virgin)

Ex-Verve man's second solo symphony proves a lot more "bitter" than "sweet."

Was the Verve this boring? After several listens to the sophomore solo effort from the band's former singer, Richard Ashcroft, I had to re-examine. First album: superior, trippy gauze rock, but more of a "time and a place" thing (i.e., 1993, when shoegaze had a pulse). Second album: Woo-zeee! It's a good thing half the band's audience viewed codeine as an aperitif. Third album: a handful of classics, and a bunch of songs you can't remember 10 seconds after hearing them. Even an overhyped, hit-or-miss canon like the Verve's couldn't prepare you for Ashcroft's rank solo offerings, 2000's quite adult-contemporary Alone With Everybody and now this clich魲iddled, ballad-heavy dud. The quests for inner peace at the album's core sound like the Moody Blues gearing up for another go of it both lyrically ("Got my mind meditating on love," Ashcroft sings in the merciless eight-minute opener, "Check the Meaning") and musically, with syrupy orchestrations accompanying nearly every song. "God in the Numbers" starts things off in spirited fashion with a spare gospel hymn, but flowers into a clumsy overblown affair not worthy of being a Spiritualized C-side. Even the Brian Wilson guest appearance is for shit, as his honeyed "oohs" seem totally gratuitous on the hackneyed ode to Mother Earth, "Nature Is the Law." This is one sad human condition. PATRICK BERKERY

THE LAST

L.A. Explosion!

(Bomp!)

Fine archival affair from one of SoCal's more overlooked punk-era outfits.

If you were a 45 collector in the late '70s, your brain was no doubt seared by 1977's "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" from Los Angeles' the Last. The song's lo-fi psychedelia was exhilarating, a Who-13th Floor Elevators composite whose dark, slightly malevolent vibe made sense against the backdrop of the then-burgeoning punk scene. 1979 finally saw the group drop its long-playing vinyl manifesto, and now, newly remastered to sport a far more expansive sound and filled out with never-on-CD bonus material (three 45s plus a compilation cut), it's easy to hear why the album has long been adjudged a key artifact of its time. From so-called "paisley pop" gems like the jangly, surf-rockin' "Every Summer Day" and the sweetly tenored Merseybeat of "I Don't Wanna Be in Love" to the decidedly more complex Noo Wave stylings of baroque garage rocker "A Fool Like You" and the bizarre Devo-esque twitch of "Slavedriver," the album's a virtual travelogue of what was going on then in the Amerindie underground. It's equally easy to understand why the band was overshadowed by L.A. club contemporaries the Plimsouls, 20/20, and the Knack; the Last was too all-over-the-map for A&R types to get a handle on the group. (Rerecordingand emasculating"She Don't Know . . . " for the album as a sweet jangler was a misstep, too.) At any rate, the disc's a must-own, both on historical termsdetailed liner notes from vocalist Joe Nolte are a plusand as a fascinating musical document. FRED MILLS

VARIOUS ARTISTSGhana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in '70s Ghana(Sound Way)

The Ghanese make it groove.

Who knew Ghana used to be so funky? Fela Kuti's Nigerian Afrobeat was common inspirational currency in the '70s and '80s, but as this collection of rare singles and album tracks (most of which never circulated outside the country) shows, Ghana was more than ready to get on the good foot, too. There's some remarkable music here: The Sweet Talks and the Ogyatanaa Show Band offer object lessons in funk, sliding together irresistible building blocks of riffs and rhythm to construct a supersolid whole; Oscar Sulley & the Uhuru Dance Band approach it all from a jazz angle; the Crusaders do the same but far less self-consciously. The political element that was such a vital part of Fela's music is largely absent here, with the exception of the African Brothers' lengthy, steamy "Self Reliance," which builds relentlessly, to explode in one of the stranger synth solos you'll hear. It gets even more bizarre with the Black Star Sound's "Nite Safarie," which is really "Take Five" all dressed up for a Friday-night-disco adventure. "Psychedelic Woman" by Honny & the Bees Band offers the obligatory cheese factor, but like much of this disc, you'll be dancing while you laugh. CHRIS NICKSON

 
comments powered by Disqus