No Come Down

•Media blitz for new Justin Timberlake album: 5 million dollars

•Estimated portion of Jive Records 4th quarter profits Timberlake is responsible for: 15 million dollars

•Richard Aschroft making music unfettered by the downdraft of media and industry scrutiny: Priceless

Richard Ashcroft is mysterious. His haughty, strung-out good looks offer an alluring alternative to the corn-fed cheekbones of Ashton Kutcher; he’s a Northern Soul hippie writing love songs to his lovely wife and child. But in the dark, misty future, when Virgin Records finally sets a domestic release date for Human Conditions, his sophomore solo release, will the record’s promotional blitz include a sit-down, prime-time interview with Barbara Walters? Not bloody likely. That “honor” is reserved for Justin Timberlake. You know Justin. I’m not sure if he’s “the cute one” from ‘N SYNC, but I know that he’s not the fat one, nor is he the guy with the unfortunate dreadlocks. Timberlake does resemble – impossibly – a more effete Ryan Phillipe; he’s also a multi-millionaire at 21, with a solo debut (the cheekily named Justified) in stores today. And he sat down with Barbara on “20/20” to reveal and revel in his charmed life.

Smug, dull, and looking for love, Timberlake was less interesting than watching piss pour out of a boot. But in case you missed it, Justin envisions his solo effort as a quest for post-Boy Band legitimacy, focusing his talents to create a new sound separate from his past. Which is odd, considering that his single is built from the same Tinker Toys as every other tepid, sharp-angled R&B track touched by the golden hand of Jive Records chairman Clive Davis. Of course, this was not the criticism offered by Barbara Walters. Back in the studio, she and mechanistic ABC News GoBot John Miller chatted about the interview, breathlessly praising Timberlake for his poise under pressure (?) and the class he and Britney Spears displayed during their recent breakup. The interview and accompanying gab sold for scrap whatever shred of a soul ABC News may have had left as a valid newsgathering agency. Even perennial “20/20” gadfly John Stossel was shunted aside by the Timberlake advertorial. Give me a break, indeed. Stossel should take his invasive journalism inside the smoked glass hallways of Jive, to suss out the evil machine that’s pumping out Decepticons like Timberlake.

“American Idol” is just such a machine. In an accompanying segment, “20/20” discussed the talent show and its wolves-tearing-at-flesh method of starmaking. Profiling winner Kelly Clarkson and mushroom-headed runner up Justin Guarini, “20/20” described the two as America’s latest celebrities, the future of entertainment. And that’s true, kind of. There is certainly a market for big-hearted ballads delivered by photogenic young people. (The final vote to decide the “American Idol” topped 15 million). But must every young dove thrown to slaughter on the show be cut from the same Celine/Whitney cloth? It would be interesting if, for its second season, “American Idol” allowed eager young rock bands to audition for its panel of judges. What would these bands sound like? Flickerstick? The current populist revival of rock and roll has to have inspired a few would-be Julian Casablancases. Straight up now tell me: Will the next Richard Ashcroft arrive via Fox Television?

No chance. Artists of true vigor would use Simon Cowell’s eye socket for an ashtray. As “20/20” is busy readying its profile of Ashanti, Ashcroft is preparing for a European tour to support Human Conditions. He wears his heart on his sleeve, in his throat, and all over his face. Justin Timberlake stores his heart in a locked steamer trunk under his bed. We have a relationship with Richard Ashcroft, built through his tenure with The Verve and his touring of the world. Our relationship to Kelly Clarkson? Hmm, I bet that’s an expensive haircut. Ashcroft doesn’t wash his hair – the better to rock you with. I’m wondering what shampoo company will hire Justin Guarini as a spokesmodel.


10 thoughts on “No Come Down”

  1. Maybe the reason that his label doesn’t support him is due to the fact that he is an unmitigated risk. Ashcroft has already been sued successfully for plaguerism and royalty infringment.

    Prior to that, the second he had a hit single, Ashcroft and his peeps were drinking, deeply, from the cup of Phil Knight — unfortunately when you sell-out the spotlight gets turned up. Next time Ashcroft sells his music to Nike and Vauxhall to sell shoes and cars — hopefully, he’ll make sure the music isn’t stolen. The Stones got 100% of the royalties from that album, but don’t worry about poor Ashcroft wallowing in obscurity – he made a ton touring Europe 10 times over as the singer in “..the band in that shoe commercial…”.

  2. “Maybe the reason that his label doesn’t support him is due to the fact that he is an unmitigated risk. Ashcroft has already been sued successfully for plaguerism and royalty infringment.”

    That’s not entirely true. The Verve was sued for unauthorized use of a sample, a few notes in fact, of an obscure Stones song scored by Andrew Loog Oldham. The plaintiff in the case was Allen Klein’s publishing arm, not the Stones. Furthermore, Klein and the Stones did not get 100% of the royalties from the album. They did get royalties from the song “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” which sampled the Oldham track.

    As for selling out to Nike, I think they saw a way to get some money from a huge song they’d lost the rights to through the strong arm tactics of Klein and Co. and took it. Was it cool? No. Was it justified? Probably.

    Regardless, Verve was a great band and Ashcroft wrote some great songs with that band. He’s built an audience over years with several albums of hsi own material and performances. THAT is why anyone would care about his new album.

  3. “Richard Ashcroft got burned. After five years in the underground, subsisting on critical praise and internal drive, his band The Verve hit the motherload; a bonafide international smash, they were. Then came the bad news. ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, the song that propelled them to fame in the summer of ’97, didn’t belong to them.

    No one denied that the track’s signature strings were lifted from an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones song ‘The Last Time’. The Stones were credited in the liner notes, and the sample had been officially licensed. But it hadn’t been approved. “We are not in the business of allowing samples,” said copyright holder Allen Klein. And so it was that The Verve was forced to hand over 100% of the royalties from their biggest hit ever, including most of the money received from allowing its use in a Nike ad. (The band donated their $175,000 share to two British charities.) Despite selling over seven million copies of the album Urban Hymns, Ashcroft and co. learned a hard lesson in the drawbacks of using technology to make music. ” –

    The band sold the usage of the song to both Nike and the auto manufacturer Vauxhall. And relinquished 100% of royalties. Alright, maybe plageurism is a too strong, but my point in relation to your article was meant to be:

    1) If you ran a business, why would you throw money after bad on an artist that has already been proven as a financial and legal risk? I’m not saying blame Ashcroft 100%, and I know there were many other factors involved, but I would have a hard time justifying a huge campaign similar to the one Ashcroft got for Urban Symphonies (at least in Europe). Regardless of the legal wranglings, Ashcroft is held accountable and he was found willful and negligent in the use of this Stones song. Unfortunately – the Verve had to go up against the greediest band in the world.

    2) My other point was, it’s funny to rip on the popstars for being on commercial tv and shampoo endorsements, but when Ashcroft had his chance he jumped at it. He gave his cash to charity only after they got busted and only then, I imagine, to save face. Still, the after effects is that throughout Europe and the US when anyone hears his song they’ll think about that Nike commercial.

    Regardless, I like any article that compares Richard Ashcroft’s cheekbones to someone elses – but who is “Ashton Kushner”? Never heard of him. But anyway, nice reference!

  4. The comments about Timberlake’s PR machine and Pop Idol (over in the UK we’re on the third series of that shit and there are horrible imitations of it – as Peter Hook said of it, would Ian Curtis or Ian Brown get anywhere on that show?) but to big up Dickie Ashcroft as a great example of soulful musical realness is ridiculous! His new albm sucks a big long one. It’s pompous, portentous, pretentious poop! Ashcroft is the kind of singer who trots out half baked pseudo-philosophical bon-mots and frames them in big music to make them sound meaningful. OK Bittersweet Symphony was a good tune but the Verve were overrated – you want real soul, humanity and profundity? Flaming Lips people. Or to go back a bit, the Beach Boys. Is say this because Ashcroft has the nerve to get Brian Wilson to do backing vocals on one of his new songs. THat’s backing vocals! From the man who wrote God Only Knows and Til I die! Backing Vocals!

    Have you ever read an Ashcroft interview? He acts like he’s some sort of musical magus, a philosopher king of the indie rock world. What a genius? What a dick.

  5. Oh, wait! back up there now. there’s so much getting flung around here that needs to be checked… Brian Wilson only doing Backing Vocals? BV’s from the man who wrote God Only Only Knows? If you listen to the damn song you’ll realise one reason that he is so revered IS his backing vocal arrangements… play Good Vibrations, play God Only Knows – play the whole damn Pet Sounds album; the backing vocals are magic.

    As for ‘stealing’ strings to sell out, hmm. I think they made a little bit of money off that album all the same… a couple of other massive hit singles and the general quality of the album saw to that. Simply, it is a record that I am prepared to hold against any other over at least the last decade. It is phenomenal and wouldn’t lose anything standing next to the Stone Roses’ debut, The Queen is Dead, Nevermind, OK Computer (or the Bends) or any damn Flaming Lips record you want to throw at it. Any album, any criteria, Urban Hymns holds its own. period.

  6. “Still, the after effects is that throughout Europe and the US when anyone hears his song they’ll think about that Nike commercial.”

    I don’t know what Nike commercial you’re talking about.

    I think of the video when I hear that song.

    Urban Hymns is a damn fine album.

  7. Really Stewart Smith nails it. Though we are getting way off track here, Ashcroft’s solo career has been a major disappointment to most fans of Verve (note the dropping of “The”). Each record after their first was a significant drop in quality over the previous with Ashcroft’s solo records continuing this trend. Just back from Europe we saw numerous Ashcroft interviews on Television and I can confirm he’s indeed a dick. What make me even more sour is that he’s married to the gorgeous Kate Radley- so I guess that makes him a dick and a bastard. Also, I too am interested in the how 20/20 and Jive colluded in this interview- there’s an expose in there somewhere. Thanks Johnny -Shamus

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