16 June 2018

Ash - Islands

For people who are around my age, Ash will forever be that young band from the Northern end of the Emerald Isle with a Star Wars obsession.  It’s hard to think of them as grown men, but that is the situation that we find ourselves in.  Over the years, Ash have released some great records and a plethora of hit singles.  But for me, I was never truly bowled over by their album output.  As good as they were, they were never ground-breaking for me.  That was until Kabalamo in 2015 (you can read our review here), which was one of the best power pop albums in recent years.  For me, it was the perfect combination of all their styles and it will forever be that way.  Now we come to their latest release, Islands.  Released on Infectious Recordings, who released the first five albums by Ash.  The title and cover are also (once again) a nod towards Star Wars.  The cover is of one of the islands of Skellig Michael, an Island off the South West coast of Ireland, which was used as a location on Star Wars Episode VII & VII.  So, a Star Wars referenced album, back after a previously stunning release, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, upon the first listen, quite a lot.  After the unbridled joy of Kabalamo, Islands is an initial let down as they seem to scale back their sound.  “True Story” is a plodding opening track, a decent song that doesn’t leave a lasting impression.  “Annabel” which was released as the first single is a lot better, with a trademark solo and a driven delivery.  But they still sound as if they’re holding back.  Then comes “Buzzkill” and there is the smallest spark of that band I love.  It’s followed by the silly “Confessions in the Pool”, a song which I could not stand upon first listen and then it seemed to fall apart again.  I was just not getting into this album, it just felt like a step backwards to me and I was prepared to write it off.

But then I went back to some of their earlier works, mostly in a huff if I’m honest.  But as I listened to 1979 and Nu-Clear Sounds, I found myself making connections with Islands.  It was subtle, but I could hear things in that were being reflected on Islands.  Because of this, I decided to give it another shot to see if my gut reaction was wrong.  On reflection, I will admit my initial reaction was not 100% correct.  Ash still have that knack of writing a quality tune, such as the mournful “Don’t Need Your Love” or the slower burner “All That I Have Left” are great examples of this.  When they’re on top of their game on this record here, they still sound good.  Yet there is still a but………

And that's the issue of the album for me, the nitty gritty of my thoughts.  Islands is a slow album which feels like someone has had their heart broken, so the world must know.  Song titles such as “It’s A Trap”, “Don’t Need Your Love” and the aforementioned “All That I Have Left” don't so much hint at this, but lay it out straight.  Now, a top quality heartbreak album can be a phoenix to rise of the flame of love, Islands is not that majestic.  It plods in places, never really getting out of second or third gear.  This makes Islands an uneasy experience, one which tries to mix their brand of power pop and heartbreak, but untimely pleases nobody.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m too jaded, maybe I was spoilt by Kabalamo.  But at the end of the day, Islands is an average album from a band that is capable of greatness. Having "Buzzkill" as my favourite song of the album seems apt.

6 out of ten – Now, I see where you’re going with this, but it’s not quite there.

Top track - Buzzkill

You can purchase Islands on Amazon here.

You can visit the Ash website here.

You can follow the activities of Ash on Facebook here.

You can stream Islands on Spotify here.

You can stream Islands on Deezer here. 

You can stream Islands on Tidal here. 

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