Richard Ashcroft Keys to the World

After dropping off the radar for a while, former Verve front-man Richard Ashcroft is back with his third solo album, which bears a bolder, more immediate sound than his previous release. The increasingly domestic life of the man formerly known as "Mad Dick” hasn’t stifled his passion for music, and his performance on the album’s ten tracks is no weak effort. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll on Ashcroft’s voice, which does struggle and sound forced at points. Fans of the Verve might still feel ripped off by their untimely demise, and while there are obvious musical echoes throughout Keys to the World, it never quite measures up to what that band achieved so naturally. It’s hardly Ashcroft's fault though, and he has definitely shown that his songwriting is a powerful force on its own. Tracks like "Break the Night with Colour” and, ironically, "Simple Song,” stand out quite strongly as some of Ashcroft’s finer solo work. However, the majority of the album seems to be rather uninspired or watered down re-workings of his musical history. This might be fine for a lot of casual fans, but disappointing for those looking for a little magic. Even his lyrical subject matter sticks to the Ashcroft status quo of lovers and the power of music. This is one of those albums where there is nothing particularly wrong with it, but it just doesn’t pack enough punch to make it really shine. (EMI)