Damn, Ash were FUN weren’t they? A seemingly endless party of cacophonous choruses, teenage kicks and “one louder” licks. A comet of vomit, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll blazin’ from Northern Ireland to the Toppermost of the Poppermost via the Skywalker Ranch. “Genuine Real Teenagers” and true “daft punks”, but with the songwriting smarts to craft stellar 45s—18 UK top 40 bangers—good enough to bag them an Ivor Novello Award. Yup, for over a decade Ash “Brung Da Ruckus”. Number one albums. Cheerleaders. Booze. Darth Vader. Drugs. Nudity. Mister Miyagi. Vandalism. A thousand magazine covers. Singer Tim Wheeler’s ill-advised Hitler haircut of ‘98. LSD induced breakdowns. Being unable to go out and play with Pearl Jam as they hadn’t finished their homework. A mid-career near-bankruptcy, “dumper slump”. The “Imperial Phase” revival with Charlotte Hatherley, courtesy of the Phoenix risin’ Free All Angels and its Thriller-esque booty of hits. The Dave Grohl-starring slasher movie and the amusing cover versions of ABBA, Carly Simon and the Cantina Band. Oh, and lots more drugs…
Alas, rock ‘n’ roll took its toll. The trio announced 2007’s darker Twilight of the Innocents album would be their last and they would thereafter dedicate themselves to singles only. 26 of them. In one year. Though underrated and undersold, Twilight‘s cover spoke volumes. A stark, scarred shell-shocked trio in trilbys and knitwear abandoned in a bleak wilderness next to an old, spooky tree. A bit like the Joshua Tree yeah. “Tell me the story of the boy who lived in hell… disbelieving with the end in clearest sight,” Wheeler wailed on the title track as “The Kidz” collectively buggered off to bounce to wacky EDM “Superstar DJ” types in the next field. Twilight exited the UK Top 75 album chart after one week before the lowest low… Annie Lennox’s 2009 malevolent mauling of Ash’s revered “Shining Light”. O Curse ye Gods!
But it’s 2015 and Ash are back! Back! BACK! Unbelievably now teetering on the brink of their 40s, Kablammo! had the potential to be grossly embarrassing for all concerned. Fortunately however it’s pretty much a triumph. Racing from the gates from first to last, it’s here to spraypaint “ASH WOZ ERE” across your bedroom, toss your 3D TV outta the window and plough your old man’s Bentley into the pool. Fast and furious with axe riffs aplenty and earthquaking drums that could trigger a heart attack outbreak. Opener and EST lead single “Cocoon” all but arrives with a bloody big placard announcing “Thunderbirds-Are-GO!”. Heavy Metal Motown and Wheeler crying, “I dream of taking flight!”. KAPOW! “Let’s Ride” then swiftly slashes AC/DC razor riffs across a bombastic, Freddie Mercury-shaped chorus. “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done,” it boasts, a flame reignited. Early highlight “Machinery” is a star-crossed crooner to rival Richard Hawley or a lovestruck Morrissey on amphetamines. “Born in the wrong place / Born without your grace,” it swoons with crushing elegance. It’s tunes like this and “Free” which serve reminder of Wheeler’s knack for timeless melody. The aching “Free” itself being strong enough to give Bono and Chris Martin sleepless nights. It smoulders and simmers to a string-soaked finale with Wheeler outstretched: “Once again a stranger / I am free”. Magnificent.
There’s an admirable “All-In! Death or glory!” attitude to Kablammo! which proves inspiring and quite thrilling. Take the cheerleading hyper-rush of “Go! Fight! Win!” which conjures both Ash’s own “Burn Baby Burn” and Marilyn Manson’s “Fight Song”. A bone rattlin’, barn stormin’, boot stampin’ boogie. It’s the blitz of bar fights, flying bottles, chairs being slammed over people’s backs and a bluesy guitar solo possibly played on an actual burning guitar. “It always seems outrageous ‘til it’s done,” hollers Wheeler knee deep in the hoopla. Elsewhere, the “Sun-sheee-iyynnne” swagger of “Hedonism” imagines J. Mascis fronting Oasis circa-Definitely Maybe before “Dispatch” brings some heavy-hearted—eek!—maturity. Luckily it broods like Blink 182’s “They fuck up your mum and dad” bruiser “Stay Together for the Kids” and contains one truly Maiden-esque guitar solo. Somewhere in between there’s also an instrumental “Sci-fi Spaghetti Western” valentine to Gonzo daredevil “Evel Knievel”. Think Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” being cannonballed over the Grand Canyon. Brilliantly bonkers.
For “Teary Tim” fans there are a dash of windswept ballads, the best of which is “Moondust”, a mutation of “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Bond themes. It’s lushly cinematic and contains just the right amount of violins, heartache and “Slash on a mountain top playing a monster solo and smoking Marlboros whilst being filmed by a circling helicopter”. So grand that if this was 1996 it would still be number one in 2015. Or something. Although this is Ash so it’s hard not to snigger as Timothy chops out the big line, “Will you bring me some moondust?”. Chortle.
As gents entering their fifth decade on planet Earth, it’s perhaps understandable that Kablammo! runs out of puff in its final lap. The back-to-basics “Shutdown” feels like a garage band banging out the Friends theme whilst the Beach Boy blue skies of “Bring Back the Summer” delivers an unsatisfying conclusion. “For Eternity” proves the biggest misfire though. Aiming its ambitions firmly on the holy “Ballads for Everyone” Valhalla of “Hey Jude” or Robbie’s “Angels”, it falls short, landing closer to Westlife or Olly Murs. Awash with cliches of “Chasing an everlasting dream”, “When I had no-one on my side” and “You’re all I need”, it’s bafflingly formulaic and thus will possibly be a freak international über hit. BOKKO!
Kablammo! clearly proves that, despite the passing of time, Ash can still kick ass. Thankfully more rebirth than retread, it’s an adrenaline assault with an infectious gung-ho spirit that deserves a hearty rock ‘n’ roll salute. Rumours of Ash’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, but then what kind of crazed mind would quit when there’s clearly this much fun still to be had.