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Ash | CD review | 2004

ASH – Meltdown (Infectious – 17/05/04)

Review by Dawn

Ash are back, killer chorus king Tim Wheeler is on top form and he's determined to show the manufactured pop clones how music ought to sound – utterly ablaze with irresistible hooks, scorching guitar melodies and just a hint of downright sleaziness.

The band's new, heavier direction has been well-publicised but although the chunkier riffs and pounding drums certainly reflect their American rock influences, you never need to dig too deep to find traces of their familiar punk-pop roots. For anyone worried that Ash are going all-out metal, fear not; one of the most obvious comparisons which can be drawn with Meltdown comes courtesy of several knowing nods to the summer-filled harmonies and infectious guitars of the mighty Weezer, particularly on Out of the Blue, the fabulously melodic Renegade Cavalcade and the gorgeous Won’t Be Saved. With its driving guitars and singalong sunshine chorus, On a Wave is a slice of pure Americana while (if you overlook quirky early B-side Astral Conversations With Toulouse Lautrec...) Detonator is possibly the sleaziest thing Ash have ever done – despite the fact that, midway, it bears a slightly worrying resemblance to the B-52s hit Love Shack..!

Download-only single Clones is the heaviest moment here and gave a fairly comprehensive indication of what the rest of Meltdown would bring, as did recent Top 20 hit Orpheus, although Wheeler hasn't forgotten the fact that, when he chooses to wear his heart on his sleeve, he can also write a pretty mean ballad (Oh Yeah, Sometimes) and, thus, fiery lullaby Starcrossed is one of the album's highlights. With guitars to send shivers down your spine, some spectacular drumming courtesy of Rick McMurray and Wheeler’s voice at its most gentle and emotive, it’s truly epic and lyrically beautiful. Similarly impressive are the aforementioned Won't Be Saved and wonderful album closer Vampire Love, whose gloriously bubbling guitars recall memories of past classics Petrol, Lose Control and Let It Flow.

That's not to say it's perfect; if there's one criticism to be levelled at Meltdown it's that, as has been noted in the past, in comparison to his crunching guitar melodies, Wheeler's lyrics sometimes appear to be an afterthought. Here, the overly-simplistic lyrics of Evil Eye and Clones mean that the words don't quite fulfil the promise of the rest of the song, which is a shame because the likes of Starcrossed ("I would catch the diamond tears you’re weeping") and Won't Be Saved ("I won't confess my transgressions; I won’t repent my vice") display some wonderfully poetic lyrics worthy of a mention in the same breath as the sublime Shining Light.

But then Wheeler once admitted that "it's not easy to be poetic in two verses and a chorus", and when Meltdown is burning with the energy and enthusiasm encompassed in their live shows and the band are playing better than ever, it would be foolish to pick too many holes. Instead, let's celebrate the fact that Tim, Charlotte, Rick and Mark are still going strong; that they made it through their Nu-Clear Sounds nightmare only slightly singed and are still setting the music world alight with all of the fire and the passion that their sparky debut Trailer promised so many years ago – and much more besides.

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