Richard Ashcroft has never been one to sing about small topics. His best known work, The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony isn’t just about any one thing, but about life itself. However, the unfortunate side effect of this grandiosity, is that he has an tendency to imbue relatively mundane topics with an unnecessary, Bono-esque bombast, which simply comes as overly earnest and silly. It’s a fair response to be somewhat concerned when Ashcroft says he plans to write an album about the Arab Spring, as he has with These People. Luckily, he largely side-steps the politics of the situation, and simply makes a fairly standard Richard Ashcroft album, for better or for worse.
The best song on These People is They Don’t Own Me, by a wide margin. The slide guitars sound woozy, yet serene, and the strings elevate Ashcroft’s evocative vocal melodies. The lyrics are, for the most part, treacly nonsense – “I know that you / ain’t like the other ones” – but they are vague enough that it’s easy to get caught up in the song’s emotion. It might not mean very much, but as a song, it sure is stirring. However, the rest of the album just isn’t up to the same standard. Hold On relies on a dance groove, with affected vocal accents, but the lack of outsized emotion or notable melodies draw attention to Ashcroft’s lyrics, which are fairly dire – “learning on your own / can turn your heart to stone”.
Other tracks suffer from a similar lack of distinctive melodicism, like Everybody Needs Somebody To Hurt, the only track that really seems to draw on the Arab Spring subject matter. However, the lyrics are as frustratingly vague as ever – “caught in the middle / life is just a riddle full of bad dreams” – and the synth chords blend poorly with the phased guitar. The song is overly busy, and simply sounds dated, like Ashcroft has failed to move on from The Verve’s style. These People may have the occasional moment of success, but for the most part, it’s a dreary and frustrating exercise in cliché.