Ash – ‘Islands’ album review

Now back on their original home of Infectious Music, Ash present their seventh album, ‘Islands’. One of the finest singles bands of the past 25 years, this album finds Tim Wheeler and co talking about love, loss, friendship, betrayal and buzzkills.

Ash have always had strong album openers and ‘True Story’ is no exception. It’s a statement of intent that plays off all the classic Ash traditions as it peaks your interest with the repeated mantra of ‘There’s no such thing as true story’ embedded in some delicious hooks. Tim then goes on to demand ‘You tell yours and I’ll tell mine. Does it matter anymore? If I listen, will I learn what I could not hear before?’ It’s a song about looking back over different people’s experience of the same event and sets the record up perfectly. Following this is the first brace of singles: ‘Annabel’ is grungey, melodic and heartfelt (‘In the storm, I will draw you close’) while ‘Buzzkill’ is a big, dumb rock song in the Andrew W.K. mould with cursing, handclaps, talks of summer coming and going and plans being ruined.

‘Confessions in the Pool’ is a Cheap Trick-esque song driven along by the groove of Mark Hamilton’s bass as Tim delivers a stream of consciousness as he talks directly to a subject (and the listener) about how glad he is to see them: ‘You’ve come to show me love’; ‘You’ve come to set me free’ before then backtracking and pondering how cruel life can be, while the big hooks in the 3 and a half minutes of ‘All That I Have Left’ bring to mind early Ash favourite ‘Angel Interceptor’.

‘Don’t Need Your Love’ also harks back to previous Ash singles including ‘There’s a Star’ and all about losing a love but moving forward. It’s the sound of Tim opening up about the effect the end of a relationship can have on a man’s mental health and the openness gives it extra depth: ‘Holding on to hope, a vain attempt to cope, I know’; ‘The words I thought were true were just lies’. ‘Somersault’ flips this with its Ryan Adams ‘Rock n Roll’ guitar hooks. This song finds Tim in defiant mood (‘I get what I want’; ‘I do what I please’) and ends all too abruptly. Anyone who has followed Ash over the years will know the trio love all things Star Wars and on this album they get to directly quote one of the saga’s most famous lines in the title of ‘It’s a Trap’ – which could be considered a tribute to the late Admiral Ackbar voice actor Erik Bauersfeld. The song itself is a slow-building piece with some healthy histrionics and has the feeling of the world closing in on you as Tim demands you don’t give in too soon.

The penultimate ‘Is it True?’ is a dancier sound with alluring synths, chunky riffs and Rick McMurray’s powerful drumming as Tim launches an attack on someone who has crossed him: ‘Is it true you might deceive me? Is it true you gotta leave me?’. The closing ‘Incoming Waves’ has a DIY feel with acoustic strums and sentimental lyrics as Tim explains how all he has is time to look back over past mistakes and ponders how he can make amends and ‘salvage what was lost’. It has a huge burst of National-style guitar halfway through that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and then finishes with a hark back to its opening line: ‘It’s a great day for walking among the graves’.

Seven albums in and Ash are still one of the finest guitar bands around. Even on the first listen, you can guarantee you’ll be hearing some of these songs at festival sites this summer

 

 

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