If ever a band was the sound of fruity alcopops, Ash might well have been it on 1977.
Mike Diver 2012-03-07
There are albums that define generations, and then there are those that will forever soundtrack a flash rather than a lingering resonance heard across the years. Ash’s debut LP, named in honour of the year Star Wars hit cinema screens and "opened" by the scream of a TIE Fighter (unless you had a CD copy with two hidden tracks at the beginning – this writer did), falls face-first into the latter category, sauce from last night’s takeaway still sticky on its chin and with a less-than-faint whiff of booze about it.
1977 is perhaps best remembered by those who shared in its sentiments – written by a trio of teenagers, for an audience of the same, it preoccupied itself with chugging alcohol, chasing after girls and messing about with martial arts. Frontman Tim Wheeler was just 19 at the time of its release and, like most 19-year-olds, was likely enjoying legal drinking age status; but his songs recall a time just previous to chucking away the fake ID, where park benches were bar stools and a bottle of flavoured wine drink was the choice of the get-drunk-quick teen on their way to a parents-away party.
For this writer, who sold a games console to pick up this record (amongst others, in a since-closed-down-local-indie-shop binge), singles like Angel Interceptor, Girl From Mars and Kung Fu will forever soundtrack foggy memories of spilling out of houses that weren’t home, at a time when bed should have been reached some hours earlier. And this writer is certain he’s not alone in feeling that way.
But listening today, almost 16 years after its release, 1977 isn’t all pop-punk knock-abouts in the vein of its mini-LP predecessor Trailer (one of its tracks, Jack Names the Planets, is one of the pre-Lose Control hidden gems). Goldfinger has stood up to the test of time mightily well, roaring into life with a maturity that wouldn’t fully compose itself until Ash’s third album, 2001’s Free All Angels. Here, bespectacled drummer Rick McMurray sounds as if he’s pounding mountains while lanky bassist Mark Hamilton’s pulling off Jedi mind tracks with his four-string; at the time of writing, the toes can’t help but tap along to something of a Britpop-period classic.
Hamilton’s sole solo composition, Innocent Smile, is amongst the simpler arrangements, in debt to stateside grunge bands and replete with delinquent lyrics – but its raw energy remains as infectious in 2012 as it’s ever been. Best-known cut Oh Yeah helped shift its share of albums, peaking at 6 on the singles chart in the June of 1996, and Wheeler’s imperfect vocal makes its tale of teenage infatuation all the more believable. He’d become a better singer, but has never quite conveyed emotion as perfectly as he did so here. And to the ears of a 16-year-old, his words were gospel: this was the way to rule.
And rule Ash certainly did: every single from 1977, 95's Girl From Mars onwards, went top 20, and their between-LPs effort A Life Less Ordinary (from the film of the same name) was also a top 10 hit. Their stock may have fallen in recent years, but to listeners of a certain vintage Ash will forever be summer holidays and half-inched hooch, stained into the grey like a spilled alcopop.