As the leader of Ash, Tim Wheeler has understandably taken all the plaudits for his songwriting skills. Yet, rather like when George Harrison was quietly producing classics in Lennon & McCartney‘s heyday, it turns out there is another fine songwriter in Ash – step forward guitarist Charlotte Hatherley.
After composing some Ash B-sides (including this album’s title track on the There’s A Star single), Wheeler and his fellow band members encouraged Hatherley to record her own solo album. Grey Will Fade is the result, and is packed with the kind of power pop that made her band’s reputation.
Although Hatherley hasn’t yet got Wheeler’s magic touch with a melody, this is a very respectable debut album, especially from one coming from such a successful band as Ash. Opening track, and former single, Kim Wilde is a great start with its quirky guitar riff and clever lyrics (Wilde’s hits Kids In America and Chequered Love being mentioned in the song). Forthcoming single Summer is even better, an upbeat masterpiece which combines a stinging guitar riff, handclaps and a Jools Holland style piano.
The Harvey comparisons continue throughout the album, especially with PJ alumnus Rob Ellis playing drums, and former Captain Beefheart cohort Eric Drew Feldman, who has also worked with Harvey, producing the album.
Yet Hatherley’s lyrical concerns are far removed from Yeovil’s finest. Bastardo is the tale of a Spanish lothario who steals a guitar, reminiscent of Kirsty MacColl‘s story-songs, while the title track is a moving and optimistic plea to a troubled friend.
Musically, most tracks fall into the pop-punk bracket, although they’re noticeably less heavy than Ash’s recent foray towards metal. Kim Wilde, Paragon and Why You Wanna all zip along at a frantic pace although things are slowed down somewhat for Down and the acoustic run-through Where I’m Calling From. The similarity of some songs means that the second half of the album becomes a bit homogeneous, but Hatherley’s way with a memorable tune means that the listener is never bored.
Although Grey Will Fade will probably be unfavourably compared to Ash by some, this is missing the point somewhat. Tim Wheeler is one of the best young songwriters around right now and it’s unfair to expect Hatherley to match his heights on her first effort. News that Ash are still a going concern is welcome though – if Hatherley can contribute songs of this quality, then their next album should be a classic.