Ash’s last album, Meltdown, seemed like an unashamed attempt to “break” America – an all-rocking yet still all-popping set of Foo Fighters-shaped anthems that dispensed with some of the superfluous pleasantries of old.
I liked it (isn’t this how Ash were always supposed to sound?) but one person who very definitely did not was guitarist Charlotte Hatherley and it was not the biggest shock in the world when she left Ash last year to concentrate on her burgeoning solo career.
It’s ironic, then, that for their fifth studio album, the original triumvirate of Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray have chosen to leave behind the supercharged rock tendencies and instead return to more mid-paced musical matters.
Not that Twilight Of The Innocents is a mere rehash of past efforts. Whilst Ash’s signature energetic punk-pop pastiches are very much in evidence in the shape of I Started A Fire, You Can’t Have It All and Princess Six, it’s fair to say that they have managed to explore acres of new territory.
Blacklisted, for example, is a blatant Pixies tribute with a bass-line that instantly recalls Debaser. If you’re going to ape something, might as well make it something worth aping…
Shattered Glass has a cool tub-thumping intro, an obtuse melody and bizarre lyrics (something about a severed cow’s head floating at the bottom of the pool!) but is definitely not boring, while the title track sees Ash make a foray into widescreen, cinematic, string-suffused epic rock. One to Muse on, in other words.
That’s the good news. The danger of stepping foot in pop, indie and rock territories is that you sometimes end up in no-man’s land, and although no-one could accuse Ash of not being versatile in the piano-led Polaris, the semi-acoustic End Of The World or the light and airy Dark And Stormy, these and other tracks have a flimsy and slightly anonymous feel to them.
Perhaps in recognition of this, Ash have just announced that Twilight Of The Innocents will be their last conventional album because, in order to keep up-to-date with the digital age, they’ll be focusing on individual track releases.
It sounds like they’re acknowledging what we’ve known for a long time – Ash are simply a good singles band. Enjoy them for what they are.