When Northern Irish pop-rockers Ash arrived on the scene with their 1994 mini album Trailer they were seen as a breath of fresh air. Followed swiftly by the phenomenal success of 1996’s debut full length 1977, Ash’s success was assured. Yet the Downpatrick trio felt restricted by their size and in 1997 recruited Charlotte Heatherley a week before V. The move was much criticised and the initial success appeared as if it would be shortlived. 1998’s Nu-Clear Sounds was both a commercial and critical failure. Facing bankruptcy, the group reconsidered their next move. A lot of hard graft assured the success of 2001’s Free All Angels but it looked as though Ash would never really live up to their early promise. Following albums fared well but didn’t set the music world alight, possibly prompting the 2006 departure of Heatherley. 2007 saw the release of what Ash hailed as their last album, Twilight of the Innocents with Ash facing the issues of the contemporary single based music industry head-on. Thus they release their seventh studio ‘album’, A-Z Vol. 1.
The concept is great, instead of releasing an album to please the music industry, Ash are instead releasing a collection of songs that are all worthy of being singles. A-Z Vol. 1 consists of the singles A-M and could in fairness be compared with an album setup. The premise that all the songs included in the collection are notably single-worthy is simply not true. That is not to say that A-Z Vol. 1 is without merit. Ash have managed to capture the essence of what made their greatest songs and compiled a collection in their honour. Tim Wheeler is in fine voice and his gnarly vocal encourages all to sing along with him.
Tim Wheeler is in fine voice and his gnarly vocal encourages all to sing along with him.
But what is missing is that one true gem, the gold in amongst the rubble that could re-define Ash’s importance in the music industry. All thirteen tracks are radio friendly, hum alongs that are unchallenging and inoffensive. But none is so unforgettably momentous that you need to shout about it from the rooftops. The freshness of their early work is gone and Ash go through the motions of what they know works. “True Love 1980” is “Candy” with an added kick, whilst “Joy Kicks Darkness” and “Tracers” hark back to 1977.
A-Z Vol. 1 is by no means disappointing but neither is it exciting. Ash are back on form and seem unwilling to take the risks which prompted their biggest two releases.