"Teenage optimism, joyful romance and delightfully nerdy Star Wars references": Every Ash album ranked from worst to best

Ash studio portrait
(Image credit: Steve Gullick)

When high school students get together to form a band, it’s usually awful. But sometimes it’s half-decent, and sometimes, well, one time, it’s Ash. 

Coming of age in the middle of mid-'90s Britpop and grunge, a group of schoolboys from Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, took the very best from both sides of the Atlantic and mixed it with a healthy dose of teenage romanticism to glorious effect.

Beginning as a three-piece in 1996, and later joined [for a time] by guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, Tim Wheeler's band have released eight studio albums, topped the UK album's charts twice, and had a near-miss with bankruptcy that almost brought them to the ground.

From their breakthrough debut 1977 to 2023’s Race The Night, here we rank all eight of Ash’s studio albums from worst to best.

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8. Islands (2018)


(Image credit: Infectious)

Although 2018’s Islands boasts the same immensely catchy hooks we can always rely on with Ash, it did little to push the boat out. Sandwiched between two more impressive outings, it finds the trio dabbling with synth-aided post-punk on Confessions in the Pool and sweary, Ramones-indebted punk on Buzzkill amidst their customary effervescent power-pop. The songs are rife with emotion, but tracks like Don’t Need Your Love often veer into cheese territory, and while exhibiting moments of the infectious joy that Ash do best, as on second single Annabel, Islands was disjointed on the whole. 

7. Meltdown (2004)


(Image credit: Infectious)

Coming off the back of UK number one album Free All Angels, Meltdown had the potential to be one of Ash’s greatest albums. Produced by Nick Rasculinecz (Foo Fighters/Mastodon) at Sound City in Los Angeles, their fourth album is all about the riffs, showing undeniable musical chops from Wheeler and Hatherley in the album’s title track and the thrumming energy of Orpheus, and it's heavy enough to remind us that two of the band’s founding members were once in an Iron Maiden cover band. For this reason, it has an special place in the hearts of many Ash fans.

Lyrically, though, Meltdown leaves a lot to be desired. Detonator serves up unforgivable rock ‘n’ roll clichés with lines like “High explosive, girl you turn me on / So volatile like a walkin' atom bomb”.  Ash get points here for bravely cutting ties with their Britpop roots, but that doesn't excuse the overall lack of genuine substance.

6. Twilight of the Innocents (2007)

Twilight of the Innocents

(Image credit: Infectious)

Twilight of the Innocents could have been Ash’s last album. It was announced as such as the band vowed to adopt a singles-based approach for the digital age, mistakenly predicting the death of the album. It also marks their first album as a three-piece again, following the departure of the gifted Charlotte Hatherley.

In acknowledgement of Hatherley's absence, Tim Wheeler's band take things in a much less heavy direction than on Meltdown, allowing their instruments to breathe on Shattered Glass and I Started A Fire, which finds Wheeler at his strongest vocally. First single You Can't Have It All gave the trio another Top 20 single in the UK, End of the World is an anthemic highlight, and title track Twilight of the Innocents brings the album to a polished, atmospheric close. It might not be Ash's most innovative album, but it’s a worthy chapter in the story.

 5. Nu-Clear Sounds (1998)

There's a reason that the phrase 'difficult second album' exists, and following up a debut as thrilling as 1977 was always going to be tough. Inspired by tour mates Weezer, Ash employed Charlotte Hatherley, and the result is a more sophisticated progression from their raw, unpolished debut. At the same time, Nu-Clear Sounds feels unsure of itself as an album. While heavier moments like the glam-punk Jesus Says and Projects bring a certain weight to the album, second single Wildsurf sounds like a draft version of superb 1997 single A Life Less Ordinary - inexplicably left of the album - and more relaxed moments like Folk Song feel somewhat out of place.

By Tim Wheeler’s own admission, Nu-Clear Sounds isn’t a band favourite, and it didn't connect as strongly with their fans, but it gave the band momentum, and some guidance on what not to do with album three.

4. Race The Night (2023)

Race The Night

(Image credit: Fierce Panda)

Almost 30 years on from their debut, Race The Night is a refreshing reminder that Ash have lost none of their exuberance, and are still having fun together and putting all of their energy into the music they make. From the swaggering confidence of Like A God to the dreamier, laid-back Crashed Out Wasted, Race The Night is a triumphant, lively outing for the band.

With a focus on synths that leans heavily into their ever-present pop side, it isn’t the kind of music they imagined making as teenagers in County Down. As Tim Wheeler told us last year, “It wouldn’t have been my cup of tea back then, but it’s certainly my cup of tea now”. But the huge guitar solo of Reward in Mind and the force of finale Like A God (Reprise) bring us the musical power that was sorely missing on Islands five years prior.

3. Kablammo! (2015)


(Image credit: EarMusic)

Living up to its onomatopoeic title, 2015’s Kablammo is the punchy, anthem-filled album the Ash needed to make. After seemingly abandoning albums after Twilight of the Innocents in favour of their A-Z Singles project, Kablammo marked their return to the traditional format. And from the massive drum intro of Cocoon, it was clear that this was an album that was worth going back on their word for.

Kablammo is a confident record in which the band strike a satisfying balance between their heavier anthems like Go! Fight! Win! and softer ballads like Moondust. Evel Knievel is a particularly triumphant musical interlude that brings back the high energy of their debut with the polish of the band that they’ve matured into.

2. Free All Angels (2001)

Free All Angels

(Image credit: Infectious)

The top two spots here are pretty much undisputed for the majority of Ash fans. By the end of the ‘90s, the band were on the verge of bankruptcy, and Free All Angels would make or break them. In the end, they created a UK number one album that both recognised their musical roots and looked confidently towards the future.

Soaring Britpop anthem Shining Light won them an Ivor Novello award, but there are moments of messier electronic indie on Submission and Shark, while punchy second single Burn Baby Burn is classic pop-punk. More polished and sophisticated in place, and more self-assured than Nu-Clear Sounds, they still held on to the nostalgia and optimism of their debut on tracks like Walking Barefoot. A personal favourite for the band as well as the fans, Ash were back on top.

1. 1977 (1996)

1977 is the album that teenage bands dream of making. Having released debut mini-album Trailer and a string of brilliant singles Ash were officially a Next Big Thing even before the release of their debut album, and with 1977 they knocked it out of the park. Steeped in nostalgia, it's a souvenir from a specific moment in time tinged with teenage optimism and a youthful joy that would stay with Ash throughout their career, peppered with delightfully nerdy Star Wars references.

The raw and unpolished Lose Control and Kung Fu (written in five minutes in an airport in Belfast) pair beautifully with the more sophisticated strings-backed Oh Yeah. The album’s masterpiece, Girl From Mars, the trio's first Top 20 single, is the song that made them go down in history, following in the joyfully romantic footsteps of The Undertones and Buzzcocks. 1977 is not only Ash’s best album, but one of the finest records of the decade.

Freelance writer, Louder

In addition to contributing to Louder, Vicky writes for The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, New Noise Magazine and more.