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Music Reviews

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Castle Talk
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Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Richard Ashcroft
Human Conditions
Virgin Records

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Despite attempts to spruce-up his boring, conventional adult-pop with K-Mart-quality Scott Walker wanna-be string arrangements and "textured vocals", ex-Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft has released the most harmless and banal album of his career in Human Conditions.

We begin with the EIGHT-minute long opener, "Check the Meaning", which manages to mix awful lyrics ("paranoia the destroya comes knockin' on my door") and a tepid soundscape. The end result is a snooze-inducing song whose only real purpose in life is to pad grocery store muzak samplers. Matter of fact, Human Conditions as a whole has its sights set on mid-thirties Volkswagen-drivin' moms. Or, for better reference, fans of Everything But the Girl. I'm a bit tired of all the aging ex-frontman/woman types (see Rhett Miller, Ryan Adams) that have settled into a comfortably numb state of affairs, forgetting that it was solid songwriting chops that earned them praise in the first place. Sophistication is fine by me, but not without a backbone to build upon.

Back to Human Conditions, "Bright Lights" picks up the pace a bit-but fails to raise the sappy standard set by the lyrics of the opener-before giving way to "Paradise", which I can only describe as a drum-machine laden turd-of-a-ballad sure to cause Nick Drake to roll over in his grave a few dozen times. Oh, but it gets worse. "God in the Numbers", yet another epic in length, reminds of Spiritualized gone terribly wrong. Subtle synth tones and noodly blues guitar lure the listener ankle-deep before Ashcroft inquisitively ponders, well, I'm actually not sure what the fuck he's rambling on about. Nor do I really care, because by two-minutes in I've already fallen asleep.

The title "Science of Silence" speaks for itself. I could just allow you to imagine how horrid this song is, but it's more fun to spell it out. Why Ashcroft continues to dig up Tears For Fears-era synth tones is beyond explanation. Producer Christopher Marc Potter, who's worked with Ashcroft in the past, should be shot. "We are on a rock spinning infinity", Ashcroft points out before continuing "If there's a god, well can you hear me now? I'm crying now, hoping you know." And this is basically Ashcroft's attempt at a sentimental LOVE SONG.

As a possible saving grace, Brian Wilson was recruited to "conduct" and lend his voice and arrangement skills. But, even a bit of the Beach Boys' grandiose flavor can do little to disguise Ashcroft's lazy contrived mope-pop posing as sophisticated heartfelt balladeering. Maybe Richard should've allowed Wilson to pen a few lyrics, for god's sake.

I leave you with this outtake from "Man on a Mission":

"Hey, I heard you'd run away. But where you gonna run? You've got such a pretty face and the world's a small small place. Cause when you're running on your own, you know you ain't like a rolling stone because a stone will find it's place..."

Human Conditions will find its place in many a used record bin in short order.

Reviewed by Doug Hoepker
A former staff writer for LAS whom we like to call Diggles, Mr. Hoepker is currently laboring away on various music-based projects. He now works in academic publishing (ahem), but is perhaps still best known by his DJ moniker, The Noiseboy.

See other reviews by Doug Hoepker



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