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Richard Ashcroft



Those of us still longing for the bulging-eyed Richard Ashcroft of A Northern Soul-era Verve will have to accept he’s put those days behind him. That said, there are moments on Natural Rebel where you can picture the veins standing out on his neck like the shamanic incarnation of old. He’s a more relaxed, measured presence these days for the most part, but the passion still bubbles to the surface on the anthemic All My Dreams and rocking closer Money Money, the latter his feistiest solo cut to date – T. Rex-meets-Stones overdriven guitars grinding away in the background as Ashcroft rails against sell-out musicians. The upbeat Surprised By The Joy is lifted by lush strings, while the funkily choppy guitars of Born To Be Strangers drive one of his strongest songs since his former band parted company for the second time. The Gothic soul of We All Bleed also impresses – it’s a rare return to the bleakness of his best mid-90s work, such as Verve B-side The Crab and, of course, The Drugs Don’t Work. Even the cracks in weaker cuts such as the country-tinged Birds Fly are papered over by those extraordinary vocal cords. Steve Harnell

Paul McCartney



It says much about Paul McCartney’s dominance of musical culture that for most of his 17th solo album, the only person to whom he can be compared is himself. His easy-going way with a melody remains instantly recognisable, and few people make a three-chord riff sound so fresh, especially at the age of 76. That he does this effortlessly on the joyful Come On To Me, and is still able to drop in a nod to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, only stresses this further. Some of this is due to producer Greg Kurstin, who at times adds precisely the right reverb to McCartney’s voice to evoke memories of classic Beatles performances, and at others – as on the delightfully innocent Happy With You – offers him the intimacy of Ram, all the time allowing his band to sound pleasantly organic. They’re clearly having fun, too, when Despite Repeated Warnings bursts into a riff that’s unmistakably like Wings’ Live And Let Die, and most probably on People Want Peace, too, which seems deliberately geared to arouse recollections of Pipes Of Peace. At 16 tracks, though, Egypt Station gives McCartney room to do more than just conjure up past glories. Wyndham Wallace

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