Album Review: Ash – Islands

I have to admit to being in total awe of Ash, they really are timeless aren’t they? I am not entirely sure how they do it. They never seem to age, Tim Wheelers’ voice is still as light and young as when they burst onto the scene at 16 years of age and wet behind the ears. Not only all of this but they seemed to just have the knack of writing the perfect rock pop songs. From the opening note of “True Story” to the last of “Incoming Waves” Island sounds like classic Ash. Not a dried up, heard it all before Ash; a fresh best of sounding, classic Ash. It’s like Ash but all new and shiny again. I really don’t know how they do it, but they do. Album after album and I love it. Islands is basically the equivalent of their next Greatest Hits album and it hasn’t even been released yet.

My own Ash story begins way back when they released their first mini album Trailer back in 1994. I was a presenter on the University Radio Station at the time and played “Uncle Pat” to death but it was that first album, 1977, I was really excited about and that expectation was well matched when it was finally released (for some reason it seemed to take forever to come out after the original singles were released). The original album was left on a National Express coach somewhere between Llandudno and Bradford but that’s a whole different story. What Ash have always done so well is balance youthful exuberance with a nostalgic twist, so that missing album actually grew in stature as the years past in my mind, helped by a terrific Glastonbury performance in 1995. As the years have gone on Ash have changed their sound only a little, filling it out, adding a 2nd guitarist (Charlotte Hatherley) and then back to a three-piece again but overall they have never lost that ‘Ashness’ that makes them so special. There have never been any ashes to rise from but if there were, they have and I could have used that cliché. Pure brilliance from start to finish. 10/10.

Track-by-track guide to Islands:

True Story: This is a light and airy Ash summer song and a great start to the album. This would not sound out of place on 2001’s Free All Angels and for me is reminiscent of “Walking Barefoot”. It has touches of Echo and the Bunnymen particularly vocal wise albeit a slightly happier one (I agree, not too difficult).

Annabel: The lead single and another classic sounding Ash track, again reminds you of the turn of the millennium Ash. Strongest start to ash album in the last 15 years with no doubt

Buzzkill: Pure, pure 16 year old Ash. This is “Kung Fu” rediscovered. Great energy, great fun. What is not to like.

Confessions in the Pool: A bit of a change of tact and a welcome one at this point. This is a great song and probably one of the more modern (if that is the right term to use here) track on the album. If anything this reminds me of someone like Future Islands and it is good value for it. It has an almost 80’s style vocal melody, timing and style to it and more synth-based backing track. It is of course as catchy as hell, like all Ash songs. The middle eighth just takes the song onto another level completely.

All That I have Left:  What makes this album is the way that Ash are able to bridge their entire career. There has always been a nostalgic edge to all of Ash’s music and now this nostalgic edge is almost pointing you in the way of your own past. The lead guitar riff on this song tells that entire story just in its melancholy catchiness.

Don’t Need Your Love:  Just pure Ash – laid back songs about love. Sang with an innocence that belies the years and still with an overwhelming sense of loss; you feel lucky somehow.

Somersault: has that innocent dittiness of the early Ash singles. A repetitive riff with a sugar pop melody for which they became known.

Did Your Love Burn Out:  Great song and again another new strand to the Ash bow. This would not be out of place on the new Arctic Monkeys album, it has long drawn out vocals and sparse guitars in the background. A little bit like the AM it seems to say more in the spaces than in the song itself.

Silver Suit: Beginning with a signature Ash “Oooh” it is yet another fantastic “A Life Less Ordinary”-esque song. For me, this album is one of their most crafted to date and songs like this just help demonstrate that.

It’s a Trap: A change of pace, almost a ballad although it has a desolation (that for me seems to be at the edge of Ash lyrics and vocals at most times) that peaks as the song builds. This is the type of song that you can get lost in. Desolate but thought-provoking.

Is It True: A little bit like “Confessions in the Pool” this is the sound of a more modern Ash with the use of synthesisers giving it a more metallic edge to the beginning. This soon breaks into a summer dream pop-punk song however, but that repetitive piano/synth sound gives the quieter moments a 21st century feel.

Incoming Waves: The final track which gives a finality to the album whilst also giving a large nod to the opening track. This has a nostalgia that leaves you wanting more Ash and more time to be reflective. It completes the cycle whilst still somehow managing to break your heart.

Islands is out now

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