Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ash - A to Z Vol. 1 (Atomic Heart)

Popstars say the stupidest things, don’t they? The hordes of septuagenarian rockers embarking on a retirement tour, only for another tour kicking off a year on. Lily Allen swearing off social networking a dozen times. Thom Yorke threatening to write the Eurovision entry in 2003, or Morrissey promising the same thing two years later. In short, they’re all full of it.

So when Northern Ireland's outstanding Britpop transcendents Ash declared they were washing their hands of albums altogether to only release singles, an involuntary cynical scoff could be forgiven. And yet, here they are at the halfway point in their ambitious scheme to release a single every fortnight for a year, ready to set up a proverbial soup kitchen and dish out free helpings of humble pie to many a pessimist.

Crucially, A to Z Vol. 1 is not an album, but a documentation of this project. In effect, it’s a compilation. But what a compilation it is. Without the constraints of time or theme or running length or fluidity, Ash have come up with some of the greatest material of their career. Daring, carefree and audacious, each track is distinctive, interesting, and strikingly different from the next, with not one lone example of filler.

From the electro-twinkle of opener True Love 1980 to the indie-disco splendour of Space Shot, via the marathon Marshall-pillaging rock of Dionysian Urge, each track seems to represent everything we’ve come to love about Ash whilst simultaneously sounding light years away from anything they’ve done before. Individually, each track is close to tremendous. As an overall venture, it’s bafflingly brilliant.

1977 and Free All Angels were arguably two of the greatest LPs of the 90s and Noughties respectively. But on the indisputable strengths of this campaign, it might not even be too dark a day if Ash choose to never release another album again.

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