BMG 14th February 2020
Maths fans; it’s been twenty-five years since 1994 – does that make you feel old? Twenty-six years ago, I remember buying 1977, Ash’s debut album on vinyl – a dying format back then but one the band still loved. In the last quarter of a century the band have changed and developed but are still essentially the same: masters of the big pop hook, nailed firmly to punky guitars and it’s a winning formula. I don’t think there has been another band as repeatedly successful in shoving earworms into the public’s ears year after year and a singles collection is a fine way to show that.
Thing is, though – do you own 1977 and Free All Angels? If you do, you already have the cream – every track on each could have been a single. Or do you own either of the previous retrospectives? 2002’s Intergalactic Sonic 7”s will meet most of your Ash needs. Like the new offering, that set had a bonus CD with obscurities and that one (called Cosmic Debris and based on fan votes) was particularly good. The new bonus disc isn’t quite up to that standard and novelty cover versions of The Undertones and Buzzcocks are delivered as direct copies of the originals.
Where Teenage Wildlife scores is sheer size and bringing you up to date. You get two discs of key tracks as well a third disc of B-sides etc. Since Ash never lost the knack of the hook, the recent years are something not to be missed and, determined to show it, this set mixes the eras together. We travel from the first EP to 1977’s pop-punk fizz to Nuclear Sounds’ less successful solidity to the epic pop of Free All Angels, with ballads and singalongs as well as what we expected. Then on to the heavier Meltdown and the very heavy Twilight Of The Innocents. Things get interesting when the band abandon albums and knock out twenty-six singles in a year, adding keyboards, sequencers and widening the range before re-shaping their output again for the last two albums. We all have favourite eras but this band have never stopped experimenting.
1977 is best represented, with six tracks but other albums get a few tracks each, apart from the huge (and fascinating) A-Z singles project. We have the huge tune and sugar rush of A Life Less Ordinary, punchy sequencer pop in Arcadia, the only track not previously available – Darkest Hour – a disco ballad that lacks distinction. Cocoon rushes and flashes, You Can’t Have It All is a disco 4/4 with a rock chorus, whilst Shining Light is a great song with a big hook and won an Ivor Novello award. You get the picture? It’s a big mix of styles with huge pop hooks the common factor. There might be fuzzy punk pop or 80’s squealy guitar or metally moments. There might be guitar, bass and drums or there might be disco sequencers or string sounds. It’s a mix but a consistent one.
I might have liked a sequential ordering of tracks but that is what the albums are for – Tim Wheeler has shown by mixing it up that the melodic beacon of Ash is undimmed after many years.