Album review: Kablammo! by Ash
Downpatrick pop punk icons Ash have been through it all in the 20 years they’ve been in the limelight. They were the first Irish group to have a number one debut in the UK, putting out the guitar pop gem that is 1977 while still at school. After falling from grace with their dark and ballad ridden follow up, Nu-Clear Sounds, they bounced back with the 2001 masterpiece, Free All Angels, which even won frontman Tim Wheeler an Ivor Novello for his work on Shining Light. Fast forward 14 years and Ash have since released 2 more albums, lost a guitarist, abandoned the album format, and released a series of 26 singles. Now, Ash are back to the ways of the album, and have promised us an old school Ash LP full of guitar pop tunes. Big words. But does it deliver?
First single, ‘Cocoon’, opens the album with a powerhouse drum roll leading into a typically catchy Ash verse: melodic, bass heavy and really fucking fast. The chorus hits us like a brick to the face, with Wheeler boasting an impressive falsetto, chanting “Cocooooooo-oo-oon” enough times to make it stick in our heads after one listen. We’re even treated to a key change in the short 2 minute duration of the opening track. It sets the album up nicely, and leads promptly into ‘Let’s Ride’, driven by its catchy indie rock riffing in the verse and its screaming guitar solo before the last chorus.
Next we have ‘Machinery’, which is easily an album highlight. It has an air of 1977-esque balladry about it, all while retaining the fast past pop punk guitar feel. It’s not too far away from fan favourite ‘Angel Interceptor’. The chorus is an instant singalong classic, with wheeler singing ‘I want you, I want you’ over some beautiful choral arrangements. The choral harmonies in the chorus really make the tune, adding a beautiful colour to the melody. So far it really is all classic Ash sounds.
Upcoming single ‘Free’ follows, which is far more reminiscent of later releases such as 2007’s Twilight Of The Innocence. A more laid back track, Wheeler’s soft guitar work really shines through here. The production quality here is very similar to the title track of TOTI, with grand sounding string sections and quite a few developments and different sections. It’s a well structured and pretty sounding song, but it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the opening 3 tunes, especially for a single.
The softness and grace of ‘Free’ is slapped in the face by next track, and definitely the best one on the album, ‘Go! Fight! Win!’. Leading with a riff that would make The Hives or The Vines blush, this tune sounds like Queens of the Stone Age on speed. Mark Hamilton’s bass tone is absolutely filthy with fuzz, just how we like it. The lyrics are carefree and scarily catchy, with wheeler channelling his Meltdown era self to deliver a powerhouse of a performance, both on guitar and on vocal duties. The already perfect song is improved further with a slick bass breakdown before an effortlessly cool guitar solo leading into the final coda. This is why we love Ash. Tunes like this make us remember why they survived the Britpop era and are still around today.
The mood is brought back into the ballady side of things with ‘Moondust’. After the raw power of the previous track, it will take a very strong track to keep up. Fortunately, what we have here is a truly beautiful love song with moving string sections and a soaring falsetto from Wheeler in the chorus. It’s amazing how effortlessly he can still construct such simple yet evocative pop songs after all these years. Again, we find ourselves singing along, ‘Will you bring me some moo-ooon-dust’ before we even hear the second chorus.
After such an explosive first half, the album dips somewhat with the next few tracks. The short instrumental ‘Evel Knievel’ sounds like a lazy rip off of Muse track ‘Knights of Cydonia’ and ‘Hedonism’ sounds like an alright 2 minute song stretched into 4 minutes. It’s quite similar to the weaker tracks that appeared on the A-Z series, and ultimately just bland and predictable. ‘Dispatch’ is equally reminiscent in its A-Z aesthetic, and unfortunately a bit monotonous as well. These few tracks seem to suffer from veering away from the catchy, riff driven guitar pop sound in favour of a more well produced, grand sounding one. They aren’t poor tracks, they just can’t compete with the rest of the album.
‘Shutdown’ brings the album out of its little slump, with bouncy guitar chugging and another catchy ditty of a melody in the chorus. Another short tune, this one barely hits 2 minutes. Piano driven ‘For Eternity’ doesn’t quite match the intensity of the other few ballads on the album, but is a pleasant listen, with Wheeler’s rich vocals shining through in the chorus and again showing us that remarkably preserved falsetto. It also feels like more recent Ash, but this time it actually succeeds, and feels natural.
The album is closed by ‘Bring Back The Summer’, which is rather hard to describe. It’s surely the oddest song on the album, opening with some samba sounding percussion and dreamy chord sequences. The refrain of ‘Bring back the summer’ is infectious, and sucks you in like a dream. It almost sounds like a dream pop version of a proper Ash song. Nevertheless, it’s a nice track, albeit a strange way to close things up.
It is by no means a perfect album. A decent chunk of the second half is average at best, but, overall, it stands strong. Who would have thought Ash would be able to produce something with tunes as good as anything off 1977 or Free All Angels over again? Downpatrick’s finest have done more than proved themselves to still be a relevant band with this, and have successfully captured the energy and rawness that made us love them so much all those years ago.
Kablammo! is out on the 25th May.
Review by Finn O’Reilly