28 May 2015

Ash - Kablammo!

Ok, this is a bit of a blast from the past! Ash were formed in 1992 in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland; over the years they have ridden high in the charts, took time off, decided that albums are no longer the way to go, done tours of small towns that never get bands playing, supported rock legends and have generally been able to kick out the jams from the word go.  The fact that after saying that there would probably be no more albums from them, the fact they have no released an album is not a big surprised if I am honest; they have always been a band which people seem to love more for their albums (at least from the people I know).  Now I will be honest, I was not the biggest Ash fan when I was younger; basically if it was not Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana, I was not interested.  But they always had a decent song or two that made them a band that I would check out, so it was a great surprise when I was walking around a record shop last week and I heard that familiar tone of Tim Wheeler over a new song.  This album was first released on the Pledge Music website, which was obviously very successful; so lets see how it has ended up....

Starting the album is “Cocoon” which begins with a haunted spaghetti Western style guitar before the manic drumming starts and we are thrown into a pop punk/Beach Boys influenced song that shows that with age may come maturity, but you cannot keep a band from hitting those pop goldmines every now and then.  It is a brilliant opening that reintroduces the band to old fans and opens up the possibility for new fans to be interested from the beginning.  The energy and symbolic re-emergence from their slumber is very impressive indeed.  Next though, next is a song called “Let’s Ride” and I will not be blunt – this is the best thing I have heard from Ash ever.  It is simple, it is catchy and it does not take prisoners/itself seriously or care a hoot what people will think.  It is a straight forward number that will have people jumping up and down like their feet are on fire and be the anthem of this album.  I cannot say enough to tell you how much I love this song, it is brilliant and we are only two songs into the album. The next song (which has the unenviable task of following on from “Let’s Ride”) is “Machinery” which goes for a more gentle route in the style of a rockier Teenage Fanclub (and by extension The Beach Boys); it is another well-crafted pop song that show that love is still hunted for and also that the band have not lost the melodic flare that they have always been able to depend on.  Fourth track “Free” goes for the slower number, the beginning could have easily been mistaken for an early day U2 song; this song about loving someone but requiring freedom is a bit of a midlife crisis number in disguise; however the whole package is but together with a balance that comes with age and experience.

“Go! Fight! Win!” comes out with its guns blazing after the tone quieted down, with a glam rock riff, kids choir shouting and teenage kicks coming out in spades; this song about moving on from the hometown and escape is well composed, immaculately executed  and it also have that energy which I have not heard from Ash for far too long.  “Moondust” is a string lead spectacular that has very grand ambitions and the lyrics about being drawn by the moon and the imagery are well wrote, the guitar solo near the end is also very good.  But something about it did not grab me, even after repeated plays; it is not a bad song and I am sure that for some people it will be the track of the album, but for it is was just a decent number that aims very high.  “Evel Knievel” has that spaghetti Western theme going on again, the tone of the guitar and the drumming is very reminiscent of the theme to anything from Ennio Morricone.  This instrumental acts as a lushest rest bite before the second half of the album starts and it does that job perfectly (and actually finishes whilst you are still wanting more).  The eighth track is called “Hedonism” and this song is another number that harks back to the sound of Ash of yester-years, it is a very basic song and does not aim to be anything more than a good number.  It is actually one of those songs which attracts me more than the bigger production numbers on a record, sometimes you need a basic, good and honest by the numbers song that focuses on the strengths of the band – this is one of those songs and it keeps the album on the right path.

As we enter the last third of the album “Dispatch” starts with a disco beat and the haunted guitar tone that has been used a lot over the course of this album.  But as the song goes along, it morphs into a flat out rock number and before you know what has hit you, the band are kicking arse with a vigour that has not been around for years; well played Ash, well played.  After this we have the short, sharp, shock pop punk number called “Shutdown” which is about the ending of a relationship which is being ended due to the lies and deceit of another party; this is another of those numbers that is very well done, but it does not totally grab me – however it is not awful, it is just not for me.  The penultimate song is called “For Eternity” and this song of loneliness and sorrow is another tear-jerking number that aims for the heart and shows that the band are not just wanting to make you rock and have hearts as well.  Once more, it is not my cup of tea; but once again it is not a bad number by any stretch of the imagination, it is the best of this type of number on this album – but it does not hit the mark for me.  Ending the album is “Bring Back the Summer”, which is very out of character for this record – this could have easily been wrote by the Pet Shop Boys and the lushes strings, synth drums, electronic vocals and pop sensibilities sound as if the midlife crisis is in full flow.  Of course I love it, the band could have easily went for broke and done another punk/grunge song – they did not and that sort of almost perverse change of style really hits the spot for me, the words are brilliant and it ends the album on a strange but brilliant number. 

This is probably the best album from Ash I have heard; even in the moments when I was not as emotionally attached to the songs, I could still appreciate what was a labour of love for the band here.  Last week when I heard most of this album in a shop was actually a moment where I stopped still to listen to the tunes, I have not had that in public for an awfully long time; when the music can physically make you cease moving so you can absorb it, then you know your hearing something special.  It is not a perfect album for me, as I have stated there are a few numbers which I could not connect with; but out of an album of twelve tracks, a couple of tracks that are not for me is a good result.  I am pretty sure that Let's Ride will be in the top tracks of 2015 for the blog, but if the album is up there as well then I would not be surprised either.  Welcome back Ash, it is good to still have you around.

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track – Let’s Ride

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Ash website here and also purchase the album from the links on the website as well

You can also follow their activities on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

For Deezer users, you can stream the album here

For users of Tidal, you can stream the album via this link here

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