AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #190 : ASH

A GUEST POSTING by ADY HODGES

HUGE APOLOGY FROM JC :

ADY SENT THIS TO ME AS LONG AGO AS JUNE 2018….THE E-MAIL STUPIDLY PUT ITSELF INTO THE WRONG FOLDER AND SO DIDN’T REACH ME UNTIL THE OTHER DAY WHEN ADY WAS PROMPTED BY MY OWN POST ON GOLDFINGER…..

I am a long time reader of this blog, but a very rare commenter, however, I have been loving the ICA series and have been keen to do one. I debated a few different bands and maybe I might do some of the others later, but this is the one I kept coming back to.

Here we are then, an ICA from Northern Ireland’s finest, Ash. This is a band I have seen live many times and the only band I have seen at all the major venues in Portsmouth where I live (the Wedgewood Rooms, the Pyramids, the Guildhall & Victorious Festival on the seafront) – the Pyramids show on the Free All Angels tour is up there in my top 5 all-time gigs. This a very “hit-heavy” ICA covering most of their career, though nothing from the most recent album, Kablammo!, which is good, but in my opinion is missing a killer tune. I think this ICA is a good introduction to the band and hopefully there are one or two gems here that people haven’t heard before.

Side 1

Jack Names The Planets (from Trailer)

Their first single and the first indication of their lyrical obsession with using space/sci-fi terms. A great blast of melodic energy, that disguises some bittersweet lyrics. If you’re wondering about the spoken section at the beginning of the song, this is the explanation from Wikipedia;

“two Dutchmen, Oscar “Wilde” Vermeer and Patrick “The Brewer” Schrama (who met Tim Wheeler during a holiday in France), suggest that the song should have been called “Jack Names The Planet Nieuw-Vennep”, given that, in their opinion, “Nieuw-Vennep” is a good name for a planet. Nieuw-Vennep is a town of thirty thousand inhabitants in the west of Holland, midway between The Hague and Amsterdam”.

Girl From Mars (from 1977)

The first Ash song most people (including me) were aware of. Their first top 20 hit and their first Top Of The Pops appearance. An acapella opening leads into a smart pop-punk song with a cool guitar solo, ideal for radio during the Britpop years. The lyrics of this song, as well as having more sci-fi references, also features another regular Ash lyrical concern, summer.

A Life Less Ordinary (single)

Charlotte Hatherley joined the band as a second guitarist in 1997, expanding their sound as a result. This is the first release to feature her, a standalone single from the soundtrack to the Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz film of the same name, which you’ve probably never heard of. I can remember renting the video from Blockbuster (that’s such a 90s sentence!) because of the Ash connection and also because I rate Ewan McGregor as an actor, I wouldn’t bother seeking it out if I were you, as it’s not a good film. The song by contrast is great, driven by nagging, choppy guitar and a dreamy chorus.

True Love 1980 (from A-Z Volume 1)

In 2007 Ash announced that they would no longer be releasing albums, just singles, as they believed the advent of the download had changed the emphasis to single tracks over albums. This eventually became a series of 26 singles (the A-Z series) released every fortnight for a year, later gathered over 2 compilation albums. This was the first single released this way (although there was a free download song issued prior to it that was not officially part of the series, confused?). It is a wistful love song, underpinned by a retro synthesizer backing, that sounds like an old video game soundtrack, stereotypical Ash and perfect for the 80s themed lyrics.

Won’t Be Saved (from Meltdown)

Ash managed the tricky feat of appealing to both Indie kids & the Kerrang! crowd and there are definite metal influences to some of their work. This is probably best illustrated on the Meltdown album, although ironically not on this track, the penultimate song on the album, which is a more straightforward pop song. The track starts with a simple but melodic guitar intro leading into a charming song of unrequited love with a typical Ash singalong chorus.

Side 2

Walking Barefoot (from Free All Angels)

I always associate the Free All Angels album with summer and I think it is mostly to do with this song, which is a perfect summer anthem. This song, “Burn Baby Burn” and “Shining Light” provide one of the greatest album openings ever in my opinion, the three songs work so well together and I couldn’t break them up, so they start side 2 of my ICA.

Shining Light (from Free All Angels)

It’s difficult to say much new about this song. It is their biggest selling single and probably their most recognisable song and one I have grown to love more as the years have gone by. A wonderful melody, with lyrics full of religious imagery, not surprising really, as Tim Wheeler grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s, when the church really dominated society there. Fun fact, this song won an Ivor Novello songwriting award.

Burn Baby Burn (from Free All Angels)

For a time Ash were my favourite band and I played Free All Angels to death and this song in particular, which was my all time favourite song for a time. This is an almost perfect indie single, guaranteed to fill the floor at indie club nights. I love the way the song announces itself with those chiming guitars.

Goldfinger (from 1977)

As I mentioned above, this is a very hit-heavy ICA, but I make no apologies for that, as I’ve always thought Ash were a quintessential singles band. This is their first top 10 hit and their highest ever charting single. What I like about this track is the way each verse starts with a slow stuttering build and the way for such a melancholy song it swings.

Twilight Of The Innocents (from Twilight Of The Innocents)

The closing title track from their fifth album (and at one point their last album). Charlotte Hatherley had left at this point and they were back to a three piece, not that you notice on a track like this, which has some wonderful instrumentation. This is a great closing track, particularly the way it builds into an epic, driven by some powerful drumming, a really effective string arrangement and Tim singing “I’m still breathing, My heart’s still beating” before fading out to just keyboards, all of which makes it a perfect end to this ICA.

Bonus Single

Does Your Mother Know (from Evening Session Priority Tunes Compilation)

Except it’s not quite the end. Ash do a great cover version, often showing some unexpected influences, so I’ve celebrated that by adding a bonus single of cover versions. The A side is this Abba cover taken from a 1995 Steve Lamacq/Jo Whilley Evening Session and included on the 1996 Evening Session compilation album. It’s a very punky take, which I think suits the song well.

Coming Around Again (from A-Z Volume 1)

Another surprising cover, this time a 1986 Carly Simon track, which they turn into a stereotypical Ash ballad, building to a climax where they throw the kitchen sink at it in terms of arrangement, an approach that ends up working despite itself.

I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at an ICA.

ADY

6 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #190 : ASH

  1. Great ICA. I have been an Ash fan since I first heard Kung-Fu. I was horrified to learn the band were younger than me by a couple of years when they first started doing press interviews around the time of also getting their exam results. Seen them many times and loved every time

  2. A fantastic ICA, Ady, by a band I also love. Of course I don’t 100% agree with your selections (although it would be hard to improve at all on side two. And it has done what an ICA should do- sent me scurrying to check out the tracks I haven’t listened to for ages (“Won’t be Saved” as I really don’t like Meltdown) and humming the tracks I love and know well. It’s also made me put Kablammo on the car stereo for the drive to work because I’m sure there IS a standout track on what I already think is a strong album. Maybe there is no “Kung Fu” or “Girl From Mars” but most albums don’t have them. I’ll probably come back with an alternative list (Damn- how do I manage not to replicate that second side) later.
    Once again, thanks for this great post and to echo Strangeways – write more please.

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