There are no two ways about it – I’m getting old. Each day seems to pass by quicker (which it would because a day is a smaller and smaller percentage of my life) and it only dawned on me yesterday that many of today’s teenagers weren’t even born in the ’80s, they were born in the blimming ’90s.
Still, one thing gives me strange comfort at times like this. If I’m getting old, that means Ash must be too. Thousands of fellow late twenty-somethings have grown up with Ash, ever since they emerged as hideously talented 18-year olds in the mid-’90s with such stunning singles as Jack Names The Planets, Petrol and Kung Fu.
I know I’m probably in the minority, but after the punk-pop, don’t-give-a-stuff attitude of those early classics, I found the debut album, 1977, a tad disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, there were a good few bonafide gems (particularly the trailblazing opener Lose Control), but the likes of Oh Yeah grated – far too safe, far too, well, wimpy.
Since then I’ve had a shrug-of-the-shoulders relationship with Ash because for every juicy piece of Envy there’s been the darkness of a Shining Light. I’ve been waiting for them to throw off the shackles and be the band on record that they are live – one that is rocking enough to support the likes of Foo Fighters. Thankfully, that time has finally come.
Meltdown has nothing to fear from the Trade Descriptions Act – the guitars explode with intent and Rick McMurray’s drums propel things along like a heat-seeking missile. The likes of Clones, Detonator and Vampire Love are among the heaviest things Ash have put their succinct little name to with beefed-up riffs (the influence of producer Nick Raskulinecz (System Of A Down) and mixer Rich Costey (Audioslave) is noticeable), stomping rhythms and even the odd guitar solo.
In case you’re an indie kid who at this point is shivering with a mixture of fear and disgust, rest easy – Meltdown is in no way Metal-down. Tim Wheeler has always had an unerring ear for a catchy tune and even in the muscly numbers mentioned, the hooks are big enough to land a great white shark. Nowhere is this heard more clearly than on current single Orpheus, where the combination of hard rockin’ and shimmering vocal harmonies is utterly irresistible.
No, the point is that on this album, when Ash decide to go pop, the weasel doesn’t go with them. Instead, there’s a robust edge, a strong foundation undergirding the likes of Evil Eye and Starcross’d that not only helps to avoid them turning into indie-cised pop lite, but actually makes them endearing. The latter in particular is epic in feel, if not in length, and when Wheeler yearningly cries, “It’s true / You know that I’d die for you,” towards the end, you’re almost inclined to believe him.
So there we have it. Eleven songs and not a weak one among ’em. An album that has all the tunefulness of old in order to retain the fanbase, while rocking things up enough to appeal to a whole new audience (particularly, you feel in the good ole’ US of A). It seems that in Ash’s case, “older” also means “wiser”.