Few bands suited youth better than Ash. Springing out of Northern Ireland as school kids, Tim Wheeler and his merry men lassoed our heartstrings with cuddly yet feisty jewels like Shining Light, Girl From Mars and Oh Yeah. They encapsulated unrequited teenage angst, because they were teenagers (our reviews editor even says “they were three foetuses when I first met them”, such was their unabashed ‘youngness’). Next to the likes of Terrorvision and Therapy?, they were Britrock’s pop-minded, baby-faced wunderkinds. The definitive ‘bright young things’ of the mid 90s.
The trouble with ‘bright young things’ is that they have to grow up. And when that happens they inevitably risk becoming ‘tame middle-aged things’ – or, heaven forbid, ‘really dull old things.’ So we approached Kablammo!, their seventh studio album, a little nervously. Their last record Twilight Of The Innocents lacked a certain lustre; would a little more age cure or kill them? Mercifully, despite the odd bit of ‘padding’, the former.
Wheeler (now practically ancient, at 38) has been both loved and sneered at for his boyish tones, which haven’t changed a great deal. Saying this, eight years on from Twilight Of The Innocents – with Tim’s solo album about his father’s dementia in the interim – some maturing has taken place. Although the initial hit of Cocoon is all 90s-lusting, radio-friendly verve, Kablammo! takes a couple of listens to catch on. But once it does you’re left with a satisfying mix of instant charm and arcane layers.
It’s a bright-eyed, Pick n’ Mix barrell of tastes. The surfy harmonies of Bring Back The Summer capture the more serious moments of the Beach Boys. For Eternity is a lovely piece of old-school pop balladry. A hint of the Wild West weaves into instrumental Evil Knievel, while the summery likes of Machinery introduce garagey guitar strums. Just want some straight-up pop rock? Try Go! Fight! Win!, the sonic equivalent of a bowl of Lucky Charms laced with bourbon – for a fist-pumping, sugar-charged yet ‘grown-up’ kick.
Slightly dishevelled in places, spiritedly naive in others… In some ways it’s like they never aged a year past (1996 album) 1977. But Ash are not Peter Pan so must grow up, and with Kablammo! it suits them well. Even if their inner pogoing teens will probably never die.