Tim Wheeler and his Portadown pups return with their seventh studio album, returning to their spiritual label Infectious and entering more mature waters. Sam Lambeth reviews.
There has always been something refreshingly juvenile about Ash. Like the missing link between Feeder and The Beach Boys, Tim Wheeler and co have embraced the sun-drenched delights of youth, creating songs that sting and soothe in equal measure. When twice they have threatened to leave us – such as on the black-clad crumminess of 1998’s Nu-Clear Sounds or their infamous full-length fatwa back in 2009 – they eventually returned, like mischievous tykes with dirt on their faces, ready to unleash a fresh batch of boisterous Buzzocks-indebted rock.
Wheeler is no dummy. He knows rock isn’t rocket science, but equally he knows it shouldn’t be drenched in dour seriousness. Hence, Islands is very much business as usual – Buzzkill takes their usual blueprint (i.e. would this sound good played around a keg?) and slathers it in thunderous distortion, clap-along rhythms and plenty of potty mouth. The inclusion of The Undertones providing backing vocals (“the summer is gone”) gives the song’s fizzy brio an almost wistful undercurrent. Meanwhile, the charging Annabel and Confessions in the Pool are thrilling reminders that Ash’s dichotomy often begins and ends with The Green Album.
However, even a band as free-spirited as Ash are not invulnerable to age, and Islands does show off their more mature side. Opening song True Story actually benefits from boycotting fuzz, a stomping anthem that glistens with sun-kissed regret and melancholic melodies. Equally as arresting is Somersault, Wheeler’s weary sigh adding muscular gristle to a song built around chugging contemplation. When they push the envelope even further, it’s even more successful – Don’t Need Your Love is all tender surf rock poignancy, while Did Your Love Burn Out is slinky, mysterious and aloof in its purposeful groove. The tag of elder statesmen suits them, and who ever thought they’d say that?
Sam Lambeth is a journalist, writer and musician, born in the West Midlands but currently living in London. He performs in his own band, Quinn. He is on Twitter, and more of his work can be found on his archive.