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  Human Condition 
Artist: Richard Ashcroft
Label: Virgin Records
Length: 10 tracks

There is much expected from artists who make great albums; too much. Indeed, maybe no one should even consider making a great album in the light of the fact that it causes you to be slated for all the years and works that will follow it. David Gray is about to feel the critic’s backlash as New Day Begins At Midnight tries to compete with the phenomenon that was White Ladder. Richard Ashcroft will never be allowed to get over the genius of Urban Hymns the 7 million selling album that had his band The Verve eclipse Oasis as the biggest band in the land at the end of the 90s. Here is his second excuse for the press to ridicule him and no it is not the seminal work that Urban Hymns  was nor does it contain songs of the power of "Bittersweet Symphony" or "The Drugs Don’t Work." Neither though did any solo Beatles album achieve what that band achieved on Revolver, Sgt Pepper, or The White Album but it did not mean that All things Must Pass, Imagine, or Band On the Run were not worth the vinyl they were recorded on. Maybe it is us that need to be released from our too high expectations to enjoy good albums that follow exceptional ones.

If we were freed then it is more than possible to enjoy Human Condition. Though there are odd occasions when the couplets have a tendency to trudge, strings might be overused in attempting to capture the Urban Hymns magic and Ashcroft might stretch too far for a rhyme that remains out of reach, there are melodies galore and instrumentation that is mostly gorgeous and often intriguing. Only "Bright Lights" rocks but there are a few radio friendly hits in "Science of Silence," "Check the Meaning," and "Buy It In Bottles." It is laid back throughout, almost his Astral Weeks in texture and just as mystical.

There should be no great surprise in Ashcroft dealing with the big questions. He studied Religion and Philosophy until he walked out of his A level and maybe Human Condition is the essays he should have written in the exam hall. He has got married to former Spiritualised keyboard player Kate Radley and had a child since the days of being omnipresent on our TV screens in the video for "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and that has changed his values and focus. 

His songs of God and the cosmos may draw comparisons with his wife’s old band and there is no doubt both are peering passionately into infinity looking for something. They do throw God’s name around an awful lot but who he or she is and what he or she looks like is never too clearly defined. Prayer is a recurring theme on Human Condition but it is a prayer to make contact rather than with someone that contact has been made with. Inan interview with Nigel Williamson in The Times Magazine he said, “Civilization is kept under tight control. You get up in the morning. Have the cornflakes. Get in the car. Drop the kids off at school. Go to work. Come home. Have a nervous breakdown…I think this album id the opposite of that. It’s about finding new ways to deal with life and the whole notion of where people find God and faith in this world. I’m asking where does the seeker stand when everybody is blowing each other up in the name of a particular God.”

There is a feeling that the baby of the God being used wrongly to blow people up might be being thrown out of the search with all the very necessary bath water but what we have here is a seeker sharing his searching that in his current point of the journey is nothing more than a groping for some light. As he fumbles his way forward Human Condition is a very pleasant, if far from iconic, ride worth climbing on to.                                                                               

Steve Stockman 11/6/2002

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2 - Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster. He has his own web page - Rhythms of Redemption at He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine. 


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