Ash: Twilight of the Innocents
In the wake of Tim Wheeler’s recent proclamation that Ash would no longer release albums and would instead disseminate singles only, it was inevitable that the band’s back catalogue would come under ruthless re-evaluation. Indeed, I rather fancy that most people you’d ask about Ash would dub them a ‘singles band’, if they admitted liking them at all.
In fact, Ash’s first three albums were all fairly strong offerings, with 2001’s Free All Angels arguably being the best of the triumvirate. 2004’s Meltdown was patchy, and the band’s other two albums, 1977 (recorded when Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton were still teenagers) and Nu-Clear Sounds garnered mixed reactions (although this writer enjoyed both of them). Clearly, it seems public opinion is less than positive with regards Ash’s back catalogue, and with Tim Wheeler commenting that “it hasn't helped that most people have forgotten how to make a decent album”, Twilight of the Innocents has a lot to live up to.
Prefiguring their new approach to releasing their music, ‘I Started A Fire’, which was previously available as a free download, kicks off the album. And it bodes well; like its counterparts on previous albums it’s dynamic and bracing and melodious, but if you are looking for indications of any alteration in Ash’s sound since Charlotte Hatherley’s departure, you won’t find any here. In fact, any change in musical direction from Meltdown is negligible for the most part of the album.
‘You Can’t Have It All’ was the first single proper from the album, and perhaps the first sign of stormy waters. For a start, while it’s a perfectly serviceable song (with a faint echo of Muse throughout, especially in Mark Hamilton’s bass line), it’s not as instant as ‘I Started A Fire’. Unfortunately, as far as first singles go, there are slim pickings on this album, and that in itself is ominous.
Second single ‘Polaris’ is reminiscent of ‘Starcrossed’ from Meltdown, and is one of the album’s best three songs. Featuring a piano spine from the newly-outed keyboard playing fingers of Wheeler, it’s a pretty song. It’s very lovely. However, it merely fits into the ‘album-by-numbers’ approach of their recent sets…huge love-sick ballad? Check. Foo Fighters-inspired flat-out rock track? Check. Six minute long epic and portentous string-laden masterpiece reminiscent of Muse, the Lord of the Rings films and UNKLE? Che…what?
Yes, the title track is something of a departure for Ash. According to the band themselves, it’s their most conscientiously experimental studio piece since the b-side of ‘Orpheus’, ‘Tinseltown’. Shimmering electronic sounds, pianos and a 20 piece orchestra underpinned with Rick McMurray drumming as if his life depended on it, this is the sound the band should have adopted for the rest of the album. And they suit it.
Unfortunately, Twilight of the Innocents isn’t a great album. There are some fine album tracks on it (‘Princess Six' is enjoyably daft, and the singles are good value), but overall it’s not as strong as the band’s previous offerings. Of course, you probably think that Ash aren’t an albums band, in which case this is academic. And the band don’t plan on releasing any further LPs, so it’s doubly academic.
A wise man once said “most people have forgotten how to make a decent album”. And while it’s seemingly true, it’s a damn shame.
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