IT’S POURING OFF ME. Pure f***ing rage. See, the enemy isn’t hoary rockers. It isn’t Britpoppers, soul-sincerity dullards or synthetic chart popsters, although they all occasionally number among its evil ranks.
No, the enemy (think Primal Scream but also Rancid, Paul Weller Smashing Pumpkins…) are those who think pop is “just music”. And that is patently what Ash believe. The last thing pop is is mere sound. Pop is politics, sex, history, philosophy, poetry, the truth, the answer, the ultimate zenith of civilisation and crucially all five senses on fire, not just sound. Sights you taste, sounds you see, edges you can bite; when you hear a great pop record your entire self is taken over, not just the ear of appreciation or the nub of intellect.
For Ash, pop is good songs. For the crowd, who greet this fairly average fuzzpop set like it was the skies opening and streaming down from heaven, I can’t imagine that’s enough. They find either social comfort in numbers and sweat or genuine pop thrills. Which forces the intensely snobbish but pertinent questions: 1) WHAT PLANET DO THESE PEOPLE COME FROM? 2) WHAT KIND OF CHILDHOOD DID THEY HAVE? 3) IS THIS ALL? Has pop always been what you put into it (tonight, fun, energy, belief, imagination) or what it puts into you? Because tonight is simply the collective buoying up of transparently mediocre music by mass effort: Ash themselves are proficient (‘Kung-Fu’), able (the hardcore-ish instrumental they play as an encore) and popular (‘Girl From Mars’) and it’s only when I see these words and realise I’m talking about a pop band and not my f***inq milkman that I realise how far down we’ve come. Only one song reaches out beyond — ‘Uncle Pat’ is so tiny in longing and so overladen with huge gorgeous hooks, its imbalance renders it fascinating. For a sold-out venue with bodies dropping like flies, that’s chump change.
If we must draw battlelines, then Britpop is the most regressive, racist (Sonya can play the token bandit queen all she likes), emotionally and sonically crippled music being made right now, and Ash (for all their noise-annoys affectations) are just as indie-ounce boring as the rest. (You’ll notice that Pulp and Supergrass, about the only two you could LOVE, sound nothing like the others.) We all loathe bigotry, but maybe in the face or Britpop hegemzony it’s time for a little ol’ Catholic anti-puritanism, time to stop aching to belong and start aching to be, time to stop trying to artificially ossify pop into moments of front-cover “importance” and realise what’s great about music today is how it can be bent and twisted into your own personal pop universe.
The lie of indie skipped itself breathless and has started to look plain knackered. Call me boring and pogo on my head and I might just start believing in it. The worship of chancers, the BO of dancers — Britpop now. I’m sorry it had to be Ash, who seem like good lads, but it’s plain that this must end now. Please.
© Neil Kulkarni, Melody Maker, 2 September 1995