In the past decade the album, alongside the entire genre of rock music, has been prematurely declared deceased. Some artists now talk about “projects” or, worse still, that previously unmentionable suck-up to the man, “campaigns”. Yet for all the bold talk and acknowledgement that people genuinely consume music differently today, no one has come up with a better way of releasing a bunch of new songs than an album.
This is a realisation Ash have come to with this classic 12-track album, their first long-format release for nearly eight years, following a period over which they released 26 singles. The Complete A-Z Series, which saw them release a new 7-inch single every fortnight may well have broken up the boredom of the album-tour-album cycle but it also saw them lose their way and depart from a sound they’d made their own.
The problem was highlighted when the singles were compiled over two CDs. Rather than zinger after zinger, the collection had the same peaks and troughs you’d expect from a workaday album. This was a shame, because Ash had been among the very few artists who had kept the idea of a singles band – in the tradition of Blondie, Buzzcocks and Undertones – alive in the CD/MP3 era.
Here, though is an album that returns to the vinyl tradition of the singles band. An album front-loaded with melodic, radio-friendly hits that make way for more esoteric sounds the further you dig. Ash enjoyed their biggest success in the mid-90s as a power pop trio. Here they remodel the stripped-down guitar rock of their biggest hit Girl From Mars and second album 1977, titled after the year punk broke, Star Wars was released and two-thirds of the band were born.
Openers Cocoon and Machinery could easily have come from the Britpop era, Rick McMurray tumbling across his drum kit like a sugar-rushing teen, Tim Wheeler’s lyrics sounding as if they’re compiled from the speech bubbles of a DC comic, Mark Hamilton’s bass lines born from a childhood listening to The Cure and New Order.
Free and Evel Knievel (could there be a more Ash-like song title?) hurtle along with the same melodic, new-wave abandon while Hedonism takes a bold stab at Muse-like rock operatics. It’s all pretty thrilling stuff, until we hit the final two tracks, For Eternity and Bring Back The Summer, which seem tagged on to remind us that Ash are also pretty adept at soothing Brian Wilson-esque balladry too. A bit of filler, but mainly killer./o:p