Having won two Ivor Novello awards and penning arguably one of the most recognisable songs in British indie history, an artist with a career as extensive, prolific and heralded as Richard Ashcroft’s would be forgiven for repackaging their top hits into a simple ‘best of’ compilation, slapping their knees and declaring “done!”.
Acoustic Hymns Vol. 1, however, isn’t a simple repackaging, but an extensive and sensitive reworking. The album takes some of Ashcroft’s very strongest songwriting efforts and colours them with great sweeps of orchestral paint, layers of jangling acoustic guitar and now more mature vocals. Fellow Britpop-originating Liam Gallagher also guests on ‘C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now)’.
Despite Ashcroft’s history of divisive conduct and controversy, a sense of warmth comes from the record; there appears genuine love behind the careful reinterpretation of these tracks. He breathes new life into them in a way that shows respect for the source materials; these versions are not bettering nor worsening the originals, but further and alternatively exploring them. He certainly doesn’t shy away from celebrating past successes as some similarly enduring artists do.
It’s through this self-celebratory record that the much-disputed rights to Ashcroft’s defining song, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, were returned to him. It was the opening strings that caused the grievances, having been sampled from The Rolling Stones’ song ‘The Last Time’. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signed over the rights in April of 2019, “a truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do”, according to Ashcroft. After a likely more ‘bitter’ than ‘sweet’ twenty-odd years, he is finally awarded his royalties.
Given the ‘Vol. 1’ title-addendum, we should be able to expect another installment of Acoustic Hymns, but, for now, this collection is surely a precious artifact for his fans, casual or devout.