In contrast to his taste for wild self-aggrandisement (he compared himself to Jesus in a recent interview), Richard Ashcroft's solo career has been under-whelming. The former Verve frontman looks the same as he did in the group's late-Britpop heyday - angular, intense, charismatic - but his songs have congealed into sludgy anthems and clumsy philosophising.
His new album Keys to the World is being sold as a return to form, confirmation that Ashcroft, following his appearance at Live8 with Coldplay, still matters. Yet this concert proved the opposite. Its best moments were his old hits with The Verve, songs such as "Bittersweet Symphony", which are now almost a decade old. It's sobering to reflect that the new champions of British rock, The Arctic Monkeys, weren't even teenagers back then; compared with their spiky, witty tales of teenage provincial life, Ashcroft's songwriting seems remote and pompous.At least he still possesses star power. A frontman in the Jim Morrison mould, he views music as an almost mystical form of communion. On record, this translates into sonorous clichés, pseudo-profundities and plodding melodies. Performed live, however, these songs were greatly improved by the passion and commitment the singer brought to them.
Taken alongside the truly stirring nature of The Verve songs he played, it meant the concert wasn't a failure. Yet it couldn't camouflage the hubristic gap between the grandeur of Ashcroft's world view and the pedestrian quality of his solo work.