Album Review: Ash – A-Z Vol. 1

By on Monday, 3rd May 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Tim Wheeler was a good sport and stepped in as an alternate on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on 15 April (the same day he and his band played in the 6music Hub for Lauren Laverne) when Dresden Dolls / Evelyn Evelyn singer Amanda Palmer was unable to fly from Iceland to London due to the volcano eruption. Even so, I’m sure Ash has had enough of all the volcano jokes. So let’s switch gears and talk about their latest release, ‘Vol. 1’.

When Ash announced in autumn 2009 that they were eschewing the standard album format and planning to release 26 singles, a new one every fortnight, the music business were probably biting their nails. It was a gutsy decision and was, in essence, a game-changing move likely more industry-shaking than Radiohead selling ‘In Rainbows’ with a name-your-price scheme a few years back. If I went through my music collection, I think there’s really only one band I can say who had a consistent string of singles was the Beatles (and in a sense, the Fabs did something similar, by refusing to put their singles on LPs). Releasing individual singles the way Ash has worked it out can be a double-edged sword: it can go horribly wrong if each individual song isn’t up to snuff with the one previous or the one next, but alternatively, the thought of getting a new single every 2 weeks builds up anticipation and excitement.

For anyone who’s not a massive Ash fan and/or did not subscribe to the 26-single series, you can catch up on the story so far at its midpoint by picking up ‘Vol. 1’, featuring the first 13 singles of the series. ‘True Love 1980’, a paean to unrequited love, is a great way to start, and the hits just keep coming. ‘Joy Kicks Darkness’ is a rocking-out song waiting in the wings to become the next stadium anthem. Listen to ‘Space Shot’ on headphones in the dark, and you can imagine you’re in a starcraft hurtling through the great beyond, Wheeler’s lead vocals soundtracking your trip.

But there are some missteps. ‘Song for Your Desire’ sounds like they have gotten stuck in the ’60s. As previously established, I’m a fan of music from that era, so it’s fine to me but I realise there are some of you out there who would consider it a snooze. ‘Command’ is too similar to the songs I hear on American radio that use guitars to drown out everything that might be great about a song: other songs on this album demonstrate the band’s songwriting ability, so I chalk this one up to laziness. Same goes for ‘Ichiban’, which, despite its meaning in Japanese as ‘number one’ in Japanese, isn’t giving us anything new or exciting.

The compilation also includes the ‘prequel’ ‘Return of White Rabbit’, four bonus tracks (‘Coming Around Again’, ‘The Creeps’, ‘CTRL-ALT-DEL’ and ‘Do You Feel It?’) and a behind-the-scenes tour documentary, ‘A is for Ash’, directed by Josh Kletzkin. Check out the trailer below. As BBC Radio presenter Steve Lamacq says in the advert, you have to have the hunger to be musicians to embark on a project as massive as this, “and it only works because it’s Ash, because Ash have that sense of enthusiasm and are still enthralled by the business of rock music”. Well said Steve.

Overall, listening to this collection of well-crafted songs that includes edgier but wonderfully melodic tracks like ‘The Dead Disciples’ and ‘Dionysian Urge’, one wonders why Ash isn’t as massive as Muse. Or maybe they are in Britain, I just haven’t seen the mania yet, being American. To take the decision to politely stick it to the man and show the big boys how its done, and right out of the gate – for sure, Ash is leading the way for the digital future. Now if only they would play a proper tour in America…

8/10

‘Vol. 1’ from Ash is available now from their own Atomic Heart Records label. The latest single to be released is O – ‘Mind Control’ (released on 26 April). You can subscribe to the 26-single series and order CD/DVD sets from the band’s official Web site. Free downloads of ‘Arcadia’ and ‘Space Shot’ are available from this link on Ash’s Facebook. Ash finish up their current UK tour tonight at London’s Electric Ballroom.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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