For those of you that remember Ash bursting on to the scene and into our consciousness with their second album 1977 in 1996 (keep up!) front man Tim Wheeler is synonymous with the fuzz of a Gibson Flying V, catchy choruses and well written Indie Pop.
Three further albums over the next eight years produced some great singles, brought Ivor Novello Award Nominations and top 10 Album Chart positions. They announced their last album as a band in 2007 with Twighlight of the Innocents which received a lukewarm reception and even colder sales figures. Wheeler recorded his first solo album in 2014 but Ash returned as a collective to release Kablammo! In 2015. Despite it being an album of some merit, it didn’t chart well and now Ash release their sixth studio album Islands.
Tim Wheeler has solo produced this latest offering after bringing in Claudius Mittendorfer to co-produce Kablammo! The album kicks off with True Story and despite avoiding the effuvecent guitar fuzz we’ve come to associate with Ash, it sounds formulaic and not unlike a song you’ve heard a thousand times at small music clubs where new young bands cut their teeth. The opening riff of Annabel sounds like it could have been on 1977 but it’s a false start as the rest of the track lacks anything remotely catchy. Buzzkill gives us a similar opening but is less of a false dawn. It’s driven with a vocal melody that will stick and Wheeler drafted in fellow Northern Irishmen Damien O’Neill and Mickey Bradley of The Undertones to provide backing vocals on this great little number.
Confessions in the Pool sounds less like the Ash of their heyday and its funk beat and synth sounds similar to the latest offerings from Franz Ferdinand. For me this is what they should have tried to build an album around. It sounds fresh but close enough to their core sound to keep the faithful happy. All That I have Left is another pleasant surprise after the first few tracks. Not a hint of Gibson Flying V fuzz, it’s a well written jaunt. Don’t Need Your Love is a nice little ballad with a catchy chorus and Somersault is an up-tempo jangle with a nice little guitar riff but its not breaking certainly not any molds.
Did Your Love Burn Out? starts from a folky riff and morphs into a great sounding stomp but seems to loose its way during the middle eight. Only to be handed a map towards the final third. It has some great bluesy guitar work that is reminiscent of Muddy Waters on his seminal Electric Mud.
Silver Suit is forgettable and bland but It’s a Trap gives us another good creative spike. Its lyrics and emotion are more in line with Wheeler’s 2014 solo album Lost Domain written in the wake of the loss of his father. Is It True? returns to the funkier sound with synths backed up by distorted guitars and I can’t help feel that this sound is something they should have explored more with this album. The final track Incoming Waves is a moving, heartfelt and well produced.
After a poor start, it progressed into some great tunes. It has the effect of sounding more mature but still has the youthfulness we associate with Ash.
I remember seeing Ash at The Roxy in LA around two years ago where they played 1977 in it’s entirety and Burn Baby Burn featured in their set no less than three times. I thought in the beginning this album was going to be a reminder of that that performance. Just an easy road to giving the punters what they want. After a poor start, it progressed into some great tunes. It has the effect of sounding more mature but still has the youthfulness we associate with Ash. There are some interesting signs on this record of where they could go in the future.