"All the things that made me feel alive, still make me feel alive”: Ash retain their infectious, joyous lust for life on Race The Night

Once proud teenage hellraisers, Ash slide into their fourth decade as a band with their wide-eyed excitement for rock'n'roll thrills still firmly intact

Ash, Race The Night
(Image: © Fierce Panda)

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Five years on from their acclaimed seventh album, Islands, Ash return with an eighth album full of all the elements that have served them well since their formation back in 1992: crunching guitars, super-charged riffs, gorgeous pop smarts and lyrics for the most part that rejoice in being in a band and lost in music. It’s the kind of album you want your teenage heroes to come back with. There’s no ‘hope I die before I get old’ sentiments here: Ash may have grown up, but they retain a joyous lust for life, and post-pandemic, are clearly delighted to still be in the game.

The initial plan for Race The Night was simple; to follow up Islands quickly with a clutch of tracks recorded once their 2018 album was in the can. Some were typical Ash; anthemic nuggets about sex and over-indulgence and rock’n’rolling; some were more electronic based - of a disco pop nature, with huge singalong choruses. But then came the pandemic and the group were forced to endure the longest period apart since they first met at school in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. Tim Wheeler, of course, kept writing and playing guitar - in one bored moment he learned to play every note of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird - and when the trio finally got back together, and finally completed their Teenage Wildlife Greatest Hits tour which had started pre-lockdown, out went the electronic tracks - saved for a forthcoming separate release hopefully later this year or early next - and in their place came songs with what Wheeler correctly identifies as possessing “some quite outstanding guitar solos.

Recorded in Belfast’s Oh Yeah studio, the high-points begin right from the off with a rallying call to arms on its opening title track/lead single - “So open up your heart and take a guess/ The only real answer right now is yes,” Wheeler instructs. Elsewhere Over & Out is a blast of exhilarating grungy energy and visceral punk - Wheeler citing Mudhoney as inspiration on the song after seeing them play a tiny show in Brooklyn, while Double Dare, which features turntablist Dick Kurtaine, who last guested with them on 1998’s Nu-Clear Sounds perfects the rock/rap interface, Wheeler going all frat boy-era Beastie Boys declaring, with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, “Right from the beginning I cut myself free/ Cos I realised there’s no-one else like me.”

In direct contrast, Oslo and Usual Places bring an emotional intelligence and honesty into play; “I’m going through a sea change,” Wheeler, newly relocated to London from his long-time home in New York, admits on the former, a delicate acoustic ballad featuring Dutch singer Demira. On the latter he’s reflecting: “Maybe we’re just getting older/ Do you believe it has to make you colder?/ All the things that made me feel alive/ Still make me feel alive”, the sadness and loss palpable.

It may have been a long time coming, but Race The Night was most definitely worth the wait.