Ash: Free All Angels

AH, TEENAGE KICKS. Tim Wheeler may be 25 now, but he still knows that first love, while maybe not the deepest or longest-lasting, is always the most exciting, and because of this he’s still devoting his time to distilling that naïvely stomach-churning sensation into pure teenage punk-pop dreams.

After the unfriendly garage-rock sulk that was Nu-Clear SoundsFree All Angels is a return to the wistfully melodic and adrenalised love-struck punk-rock that made them so great back when they were still teenagers — songs about walking hand-in-hand along the beach, about wasting whole years and losing yourself in a kiss. There might not be anything quite as gloriously inspired and evocative of teenage love-in-the-summer as ‘Girl From Mars’ or ‘Oh Yeah’ on here, but they get damn close several times on an album packed full of singles and potential singles.

Ex-Night Nurse guitarist Charlotte Hatherley is now a fully established part of the band’s sound, as essential as gonzo drummer Rick McMurray or potential mental outpatient Mark Hamilton, backing up Wheeler’s full-speed guitar assault and allowing him to take centre stage and play the rock-star role in excelsis. (You just know she plays the fiddly bits live while he strikes Iggy-poses with his Flying-V and gay-icon cheekbones) While they may occasionally veer too far into formulaic punk-pop territory (‘Cherrybomb’), Ash are never far from moments of inspired pop on FAA, from the Walker Brothers-sampling electro-pop of ‘Candy’ to the storming proper rock’n’roll of ‘Shining Light’. OK, so Tim’s voice is still closer to that of a gasping asthmatic child than Robert Plant’s primal holler, but when his cracked larynx is guiding us through classic pop of the highest order like ‘Sometimes’, it really doesn’t matter.

For the first time since their full-length debut album 1977, Ash have achieved synergy between their sweet-as-milkshake pop and the full-on heavy metal and punk that inspired Hamilton and Wheeler to pick up guitars in the first place. ‘Shark’ is the sound of In Uetero without the self-loathing, while ‘Nicole’ recalls the sex-and-death weirdness that made The Pixies the greatest band in the world over a decade ago. Elsewhere we get Rick McMurray’s throbbing techno sex-rock ‘Submission’ and more hooks than a velcro prom-dress.

Ash have always been an absolutely storming singles band, and with Free All Angels they show that they’ve remembered how to make albums to match.

© Nick SouthallStylus, 1 September 2003

Leave a Comment