Richard Ashcroft
Alone with Everybody

Richard Ashcroft is a happy man.

Look at that statement. What's wrong with it? On one level, nothing. We all wish our fellow human beings happiness in life, especially when they just got married to a fellow musician (Kate Radley, Spiritualized). Even if they were in an overblown, over-hyped, Rolling Stones rip-off band (The Verve). That's fine.

No, what is wrong is this: Mr. Ashcroft, for all his myriad musical failings, is a man with a reputation for making drug-laced, paranoiac, insurrectionary music. His fans loved him for it, for the way his band's music came across as so brooding and introverted.

This is not an album that will please fans of The Verve. There is none of the self-immolating indulgence, the (allegedly) symphonic magic that many felt Urban Hymns possessed. Instead we have an unambiguously sentimental love album, with music that lulls the listener into a soporific state of boredom. On the odd occasion that the singer ventures back into old Verve territory, he sounds bored. The (alleged) swagger of old has been replaced by a jangling guitar and a tranquil atmosphere; the scratched old '60s albums have been swapped for an IKEA catalogue and a membership to the golf club. That's the trouble with happiness. It's so difficult to create resonant music when you have a smile on your face and all is right with the world. EVERETT TRUE

Queens of the Stone Age
Rated R

Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist Josh Homme insists he hates the term "stoner rock," though his band name seems to belie that sentiment. He also says the "Queens" part of the name was designed to fuck with the homophobic fans of Kyuss, his previous band. And pissed off they are, judging from chat-room comments posted by noms de plume like Hemp Dude, Big Hair, and Metal Face: "trendy sell-out HOMOSEXUALS," "sounds kinda GAY to me," etc. (Apparently none of these snarling boys noticed the Queens' continued fondness for naked women in their album art.) Rated R strays even further from the bands' roots. Though the usual bone-heavy guitars and deep, sexy vocals are still there, Rated R explores new ground and displays a more sophisticated production quality than the Queens' self-titled debut. But if you're convinced the Queens have strayed too far from familiar territory, you'll be comforted by the trance-inducing chant of the album's opener: "nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy, and alcohol...c-c-c-cocaine." Well, you know the old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same. MELODY MOSS