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"A-Z Vol. 1"

Ash – A-Z Vol. 1
19 April 2010, 11:00 Written by Andy Johnson
There's more than one way to skin a cat. Over the last few years, a growing number of bands have begun to challenge certain music release norms. Radiohead allowed fans to pay what they wanted for an album, Nine Inch Nails simply gave away an album for free. Northern Irish rock veterans Ash, though, seek to challenge the whole concept of the album, just as Led Zeppelin challenged the single in the 1970s; and they've succeeded.They have succeeded in a sense that Vol. 1 demonstrates that in releasing a single every fortnight, you can maintain a high level of consistent quality, and when you collect those singles (or the first half of them, in this case) you can create a record as impressive, if not moreso, than a lot of conventional rock albums recorded on the now-normal two-year cycle. Even if this experiment on Ash's part is an effort to get them back into public attention more effectively than an album would - and I suspect that's part of their motivation - it's still an experiment which has produced some mightily impressive musical results.There's definitely a real joy in hearing new, bespoke singles back to back. The lulls in quality you expect of the vast bulk of albums are largely excised on Vol. 1, a record which arguably contains as many gloriously uplifting tunes as any rock record of the last few years. Take 'Arcadia' for example. Released as single "C" in November, this brilliantly conceived song fuses Ash's more traditional rock side with their more recent electronic bent, wrapping synths and raucous guitars around verses and choruses which wrestle for the right to be the most wonderfully bombastic and soaring part of the song. February's 'Neon' has a darker, more Muse-esque feel, the lyrics mentioning the sudden alignment of conspiring forces. The chorus aims again at the life-affirming though, and achieves it in a slightly more restrained way than the likes of 'Arcadia'.Throughout the first 13 of Ash's 26 scheduled singles, Ash have sounded almost uniformly positive. Even on the recent 'War With Me', in which Tim Wheeler sings of feeling slighted by a lover he has stood faithfully by, the whole drive of the song, especially the piano, seem to hint at happier times to come. The largely upbeat tone of Vol. 1, both in terms of pace and subject, combined with the sheer quality of these songs, makes Vol. 1 a potentially hugely addictive listen. So what if this a ploy to get Ash back into the public mind again? It's also a powerful document of exactly why Ash deserve to be there.RECOMMENDED
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