They’ve lost none of their melodic punch since Girl From Mars fell to Earth.
Mark Beaumont 2010
While most new bands flail their way around an ever-shrinking music industry wondering where all the money’s gone, it’s the old guard who have really tackled the challenges of the download generation head on. Following their 2007 album Twilight of the Innocents, Downpatrick’s proudest sons Ash swore never to release another full-length studio effort, but instead put out singles and accompanying compilation sets.
And here’s the first – a compendium of the first 13 of the 26 singles Ash are releasing over 2009 and 2010 at the rate of one a fortnight, to accompany a tour of 26 towns starting with each letter of the alphabet, from Aldershot to Zennor. Webophiles have also had access to exclusive remixes, additional tracks and the ability to create their own avatars in the style of the A-Z artwork. As next-generational grand conceits go, it sure beats a blurry gig in Second Life.
And untethered from the need to make a coherent suite of songs, Tim Wheeler and cohorts have found themselves free to indulge their more extravagant and disparate musical desires. Disco synth pop? Why the hell not. Goth metal? Oh go on then, just a wee dram. Ska-punk chanting tunes? Knock yourselves out. The freedom of genre enjoyed within these thirteen tracks is in keeping with the dislocated art of the great pop single, but nonetheless impressive. Ash’s trademark straight-ahead indie rock takes detours into Erasure-style electro pop (True Love 1980), driving geek rock (Arcadia), Muse space metal (The Dead Disciples) and the odd Bontempi waltz interlude (Pripyat).
Okay, so there’s no industrial Nicaraguan jazzcore raps played on hollowed-out stoat bones on it, but sonic adventurism is always relative – this is, after all, Ash. And when they play to their power pop strengths on Joy Kicks Darkness and Dionysian Urge, or revisit the epic balladry of Oh Yeah on Tracers and War With Me, they prove they’ve lost none of their melodic punch since Girl From Mars fell to Earth. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the A-Z project is that, thus far, every track really is worthy of being a single. And heaven knows, there are precious few Greatest Hits albums that can claim the same.