You remember Ash, don’t you? ‘Girl From Mars’, ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’? They had that wonderful singles album back in 2002, ‘Intergalactic Sonic 7”s’, which pretty much contained all of their essential moments. Washed up now though, aren’t they? That hideous over the top rawk album, ‘Meltdown’ and then ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’, which sold about twelve copies, pretty much consigned them to the bargain racks.
Some bits of the above are true, but the idea that they are washed up is, creatively at least, simply not correct. Those who follow Just Played’s occasionally illuminating Twitter feed will have noticed frequent tweets about recent material from Ash, released as part of their ‘A-Z Series’ of singles, which began back in October 2009. Although taster track ‘Return Of White Rabbit’ (included here, annoyingly, as the first track) was pleasant if unremarkable, as it was only £13 for a digital subscription – working out at 50p a track – I thought it seemed a pretty decent deal to me and I duly subscribed. The first track, ‘True Love 1980’, proved to be a confident opener and a quick way to reassure those who had taken the plunge that this was going to be worth it after all. Peppered with glittery electronic plink-plonkery, along with a nagging chorus and some of Tim’s best singing in some time, it was everything I wanted Ash to sound like. The rest of the series has done little to dent my enthusiasm.
Last month came the first of two compendium pieces, drawing together the initial half of the project, along with five bonus tracks and a splendidly assembled documentary, tracking the creation and promotion of the material. With an almost depressing sense of inevitability, I found myself pre-ordering a copy, despite having the vast majority of the music already. However, it is actually in this compilation format that I have truly grown to love the bulk of these songs.
The pure pop moments, ‘Arcadia’, ‘Pripyat’, ‘Space Shot’,’ ‘Neon’, ‘War With Me’ and the aforementioned ‘True Love 1980’, are, to my mind, some of the very best singles they have ever released. ‘Arcadia’ charges along at a frenetic pace, sounding unashamedly plastic and polished, while ‘Space Shot’ is dangerously addictive. Its melody line will loiter in your headspace for many hours after listening and the whole track is one of my favourite singles of the last few years – by anybody. ‘Pripyat’ deserves recognition for being not the first but the second Ash song to feature the word “citadel”. That and the fact it has a spangly, euphoric, air-puncher of a chorus. ‘War With Me’, with its sickly sweet croon from Tim and buffed up piano refrain, is about as far from most of ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ and ‘Meltdown’ as the band have ever ventured. Still great though.
Occasionally, the quality lets up – ‘The Dead Disciples’ doesn’t really go anywhere and ‘Ichiban’ comes on like a pound-shop Muse, so ludicrously overblown is its introduction before descending into Green Day guitar clichés – but it does largely feel like a collection of splendid singles, rather than a bulk of material in which there are the usual couple of highlights. The frequent switching between all-out pop, emotive balladry and pulsing rock is hugely endearing, not least in the final trio of ‘Song Of Your Desire’, ‘Dionysian Urge’ and ‘War With Me’, the second of those three featuring a blistering riff to die for.
Presumably to encourage purchases such as mine, the compilation has some additional material appended to the main singles. ‘Coming Around Again’ is pleasant enough but ultimately belongs in the ‘bonus material’ world. The precocious thrash through two and a half minutes that is ‘The Creeps’ is well worth a listen, evoking the pure strut of early Ash. Essentially stillborn thanks to its piss-poor title, ‘CTRL-ALT-DEL’ goes nowhere, but then the album closer, ‘Do You Feel It?’ is another one out of the Tim Wheeler Croons For You drawer and, just as history has taught us, he’s bloody good at it, aided by an adventurously eighties pop ballad chorus before the audacious inclusion of an actual sax solo!
The subscription itself is well worth £13 – you’ll get every song released to date plus all future releases and bonus tracks – but you can’t go far wrong by shelling out to HMV right now, who are currently offering the CD (with bonus tracks, without DVD) compilation of ‘The A-Z Series’ for £4.99 delivered. For a band at risk of dying a creative death, this project has been a striking reincarnation and one entirely deserving of a wider audience.