A look back on a fine singles band...

A life less ordinary, the story of Ash is one of changeability, versatility and extraordinariness.

Not every bit of early ambition associated with Northern Ireland’s Downpatrick punk-rock outfit had something to do with music. For a short while, the idea of getting an American football team together was a goal, even if they soon realised it would end up being a costly affair.

Luckily, they chose to follow their other passion – the dream of being professional musicians. One of the first Irish bands to have a number one album, their debut ‘1977’portrayed three teenagers with something special to offer a Britpop-absorbed nation.

Shaping the band’s career with raw teenage punk energy through tracks like this remastered version of ‘Jack Names The Planets’ right through to the aggressive snarl of ‘Buzzkill’ from ‘Islands’, the new release includes compulsive cover versions of songs such as fellow countrymen The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ by The Buzzcocks as well as Carly Simon’s ‘Coming Round Again’. Staying close enough to original renditions is hardly ever a bad thing.

The vibrancy and energy of Tim Wheeler’s melodic songwriting has been going from strength to strength, earning him a reputation as one of the most fascinating writers of his genre and generation. ‘Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years of Ash’ celebrates this quality as much as serving as a biographical record, accurately documenting ups and downs and any growth the band have lived through.

Highlighting some of their greatest achievements, the fresh handpicked selection captures what Ash are about. The idea of lifting iconic belters such as ‘Kung Fu’, ‘Girl From Mars’, ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘Goldfinger’ off ‘1977’, shake them up and place them alongside ‘Shining Light’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and ‘Sometimes’ from ‘Free All Angels’, the band’s project made with Charlotte Hatherley, is magnificent.

An effective way to get started, similar clever tactics occur throughout. Their second album ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ from 1998 also represented a big achievement, despite lacking some of the fine immediacy of ‘1977’ or growth and substance of ‘Free All Angels’. Life in a band of Ash’s magnitude was not just fun and games. Dealing with overnight fame can represent a challenge for any young musician, and for Ash it meant a schedule of constant touring for a few years, with hardly any time to relax or space to just be a carefree teenager. Finding the time and peace to write good material also became harder.

It makes sense to bring together all aspects of Ash’s projects up until this point and combine them into one release. Their 2004 release ‘Meltdown’ is a record that combines a diverse sonic palette ranging from teenage punk aggression to grunge tracks such as ‘Starcrossed’. It also incorporates elements of metal as heard on ‘Clones’, truly signifying Ash’s authenticity and individuality. Equally, ‘Twilight of the Innocents’ shows an experienced and mature group in the process of moving on, constantly embracing change and reinventing themselves.

More than two decades on, the group’s era-defining work projects the same spellbinding urgency, continually taking guitar music to new places with imagination, force and creativity.

8/10

Words: Susan Hansen

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