Richard Ashcroft has been on obligingly gobby form during promo for his fifth solo album, goading Lily Allen, denouncing X Factor, and (most impressively) asking the son of late Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein for £15m in ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ royalties 20 years after he got clobbered for sampling a Jagger/Richards composition without asking.
However, if one were worried that Ashcroft’s antics could be linked to the packet of white powder that appeared to fall from his pocket during a recent run-out on Saturday-morning banterbus Soccer AM that Ashcroft insisted was “litter”, and not just to innate ebullience and rock-star charisma, fear not: three songs into his latest collection he announces, “a natural rebel, here I am”, and although he continues by informing us that “some of you won’t understand”, it’s actually the most revealing line on an album of attention-seeking, self-mythologising, and ultimately rather naff country rock that, despite Ashcroft’s best poses, displays all the natural rebellion of running through a field of wheat.
Elsewhere, Ashcroft grows more gnomic. “If you’re walking with me, I’m walking with you,” he points out, repeatedly and fairly self-evidently, on ‘That’s When I Feel It’, while ‘We All Bleed’ finds him exploring his raison d’etre and concluding, “I’m born to fly, I’m here to sing”; later, Ashcroft presciently reminds us “I’m a man in motion/All I need is speed” – which, while entirely meaningless, should surely prompt a quick forage down the side of the Soccer AM sofa.
He rounds things off lambasting unnamed “rebel rock” rivals by telling them, “your songs mean nothing at all”, which, given the preceding 40 minutes of non-sequitur, hollow cliche and self-absorbed bombast, is a bit rich. Not that it matters: ‘Natural Rebel’ is clearly not an album written for other bands to hear and fear. Instead, it’s a record in love with its own reflection – and far too close to the mirror for its own good.