14 February 2020 (released)
14 February 2020
As their contemporaries from the 1990s either split and/or reformed, dredging off-cut studio scrapings for ‘deluxe repackages’ and pronounced ‘comeback circuses’ Irish trio Ash have quietly gone about their business: no fuss, same buzz.
Ever since 1994’s debut single ‘Jack names the planets’ (when the trio were still in school) right up to the new song ‘Darkest hour of the night’ Ash are superior (re)interpreters of sound-sources such as glam, punk, grunge, rock, electro, metal (‘Skullful of Sulphur’ is as ‘speedy’ as the title suggests) with a pop sensibility always at the core. Their cover of Carly Simon’s ‘Coming Round Again’ is a case in point.
Queasily roped into the contentious realm of ‘Britpop’ (despite the historic connotations for a band from Ireland), Ash transcended that retromaniac politicking charade-parade, existing beyond, beneath and apart producing a slew of chart-friendly singles (when they arguably mattered) and rock nuggets that still sound ‘box-fresh’ today. 2016’s superlative ‘Machinery’ sits majestically alongside Pixiesesque loud/quiet stomper 1994’s ‘Petrol’.
On ‘Teenage Wildlife’ the group release a third best-of/greatest hits/archival trawl encompassing their career trajectory to date with nary a dip in quality.
Eschewing a straight-out chronological run-through the group’s progress from three-minute punkstarts to the Charlotte Hatherley years (1997 – 2006) onward to 2018’s ‘Islands’ they evince no signs of aging.
For a period in the early days Ash ruled the indie-dancefloors, from ‘Kung Fu’s frenetic mayhem that would result in the kind of scenes usually the reserve of a Bash Street Kids punch-up; all flailing limbs and grazed knees to 2001’s ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and its monstrous glam-racket.
The well-known are here ‘(the Ivor Novello award winning ‘Shining Light’, ‘Girl from Mars’, ‘Oh Yeah’, the film-scoring ‘A life less ordinary’ from Danny Boyle’s misfiring yet misunderstood follow-up to ‘Trainspotting’) as are ought-to-be-better-knowns the Pete Shelley whoo-oohing ‘Cocoon’, the objets d’amour ode ‘Confessions in the Pool’ and the Jean-Jacques Burnel bass-driven ‘Return of the White Rabbit’ taken from the groups ‘A-Z Series’ wherein they released 26 singles in a the year 2009 - 2010.
With songs like ‘Sometimes’ and End of the world’ it’s a wonder that the arch-destroyer of pop-culture Simon Cowell hasn’t wreaked his malevolent paws and ‘re-worked’ them for the mass(aged) market (a la Biffy Clyro) nor deployed Ash as (pop)guns for hire for a dead-behind-the-eyes humannequin. Then again, small mercies.
One gripe. The covers of Buzzcocks’ (‘Everybody’s happy nowadays’ replete with backing-whine from Chris Martin) and The Undertones (‘Teenage Kicks’) are merely perfunctory and barely different to the originals.
In 1995 the group covered John Lennon’s ‘Give me some truth’ as a B-side to ‘Angel Interceptor’, an exquisite electronic deconstruction>reconstruction that still suggests avenues and paths they could still pursue. Also on 1996’s ‘Goldfinger’ single they covered The Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’ again to great effect, its omission here another curious decision.
That said, there’s more than enough to sate the appetites of die-hards and seduce the whims of newly-leds.
Ash. Should be bigger.