We’re massively excited to feature Ash as our Featured Artist this week, in order to tie in with the release of a couple of exclusive BAMM.tv performances from this three-piece Brit-rock legend. The first one – ‘Shining Light’ – was unleashed last week, and there’s a second one all ready for you to watch later this week. Excited? Course you are.
In the meantime, however, we thought we’d take a few days to celebrate all things Ash … beginning with a look at their discography to date. Let’s join hands and relax in a blue shimmery light as we Quantum Leap back through musical history …
For those of us who have been following Ash’s musical trajectory since the beginning, here’s a chilling little reminder of your own mortality: ‘Trailer’, the debut album from a bunch of young Northern Ireland upstarts barely past the point of their school exams, is now a whopping twenty years old. Time flies when you’re having fun. Or even when you’re not.
Luckily, all that’s needed to nullify such morbid musings of mortality (check out our alliteration skills) is to take another listen to ‘Trailer’, and to be blown away by the sheer energy and verve of the band’s first long-player. It’s not as polished as later work, obviously, and the songwriting is a mere foreshadow of what’s to come – but, just as a teenage Metallica arrived fully-formed with 1983’s ‘Kill ‘Em All,’ we can safely say that ‘Trailer’ is the confident, bellowed announcement of a great new talent.
There’s more after the jump …
Sometimes it takes a sophomore album to truly crystallize a band’s sound, ethos and aesthetic (‘Meat Is Murder’, ‘The Neon Bible,’ – oh, and ‘Ride The Lightning’, seeing as we’ve already dropped a Metallica reference). ‘1977’ – no spring chicken at 18 years old – was such an album. ‘Goldfinger’ … ‘Girl From Mars’ … ‘Kung Fu’ … ‘Oh Yeah’ … the tracks here are so immediate and timeless that – had you never heard of Ash before – you could be forgiven for thinking this was a Greatest Hits compilation.
1996 was also the height of the Britpop phenomenon, that peculiar mid-nineties musical movement in which British guitar music had a retro-themed resurgence. For better or worse, Ash found themselves associated with the label – yet while other bands sank without trace when the Britpop fad vanished a couple of years later, Ash were one of the few acts who managed to transcend this umbrella label and stick around until the present day. Britpop might have been maligned by hindsight; Ash simply got better with age.
NU-CLEAR SOUNDS (1998)
It’s always easy to coast. Once success has been established, many artists often view the risk of meddling with a winning formula as offsetting any potential rewards. Not so Ash – whose 1998 ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ acknowledged the death of Britpop (essentially a three-year musical summer holiday) with a darker, more complex and driving sound. Lead single ‘Jesus Says’ was a revelation, filtering in American influences such as Weezer and Nada Surf alongside their tried-and-tested pop-punk credentials.
Much of this change was spearheaded by the addition of new band member Charlotte Hatherley. Settling into the groove with ease, Hatherley was an ideal incarnation of Ash 2.0 – young, sexy, edgy and yet with a musical maturity and professionalism earned only by hard work. Everyone was hugely excited as to what was coming next …
FREE ALL ANGELS (2001)
… and that excitement proved to be more than justified when, three years later, ‘Free All Angels’ hit the shelves. To any Generation Y college students, this album has already cemented its place as the eternal sound of a youthful summer. While many thought that Ash were determined to take a darker, more non-commercial route after their last album, ‘Free All Angels’ saw them combine their grittier edge with their pop sensibilities to astonishing effect.
‘Shining Light’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’ were archetypal radio smash-hits in an age in which radio still meant something, and the album hit the UK charts at number one and sold over three million copies worldwide. In the dusty old annals of bearded critics and their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame predictability (‘hey guys, let’s give The Who an award again’), ‘Free All Angels’ has yet to be considered a classic. But the kids – or at least those who were kids at the time, and still are perhaps, save for a bit of encroaching thirtysomething flab – know better. Along with another instant classic from the same year – The Dandy Warhol’s ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia’ – it’s a joyous masterpiece, and easily a top five contender for any Most Underrated Albums rundown.
Summer can only last so long, of course, before the nights start drawing in again. If ‘Free All Angels’ was the party, then ‘Meltdown’ was the hangover – but what a hangover, full of the dark and brooding rhythm that pulses through the skull in the aftermath of a biiiiiiiig night out.
This isn’t to say that any encroaching darkness (perhaps an inevitable sign of getting older) strips away the melodies, hooks and songwriting prowess that Ash had been hitting home with for a decade by now. ‘Meltdown’ might have not ruled the charts the way its predecessor did, but the fans didn’t care: this was another batch of black magic.
TWILIGHT OF THE INNOCENTS (2007)
With Charlotte Hatherley moving on to pastures new, Ash were now back to being a three-piece again – and with that came a desire to reconnect with their ‘Trailer’-era selves and return to a less polished “tight 70s guitar band sound” (their words). Do they succeed? Yep. And while newer fans who fell in love with the group over the course of their previous two albums may have taken a while to adjust, the lifelong acolytes (Ash-olytes?) felt like the hometown boys-made-good were returning for a parade.
As for where the band will head next? They’re working on new material right now, and – judging from the retrospective above – we can only assume that the album they choose to release will be as crowdpleasing as the last one (we just can’t say which crowd for sure). And while a full-length album has been a long time coming, they released the intriguing A-Z series of download singles between 2009-2010, a move which – according to lead singer Tim Wheeler – reflected how “the way people listen to music has changed, with the advent of the download the emphasis has reverted to single tracks.” It just so happened that these new singles included some of their best-ever stuff, like ‘Return Of White Rabbit’ and ‘True Love 1980′ (both below).
If you’re reading this as someone who’s long followed the band, we hope this has inspired you to dig out a few old classics. If you’re reading this as someone who’s new to Ash – well, dive into the above collection, and have the time of your life.