Ash - 1977
It is said by those same know-it-alls that the title is derived from the birth year of two of the band members, thereby proving that, in reality, they really do know absolutely nothing at all. One listen to the album by anyone who was older than ten in 1977 will quickly tell you that the title in fact derives from the year in which Ash's influences first came to prominence themselves. Yes, this is all about punk-inspired powerpop, from the same school which brought you "Orgasm Addict" and "Oh Shit" as well as (albeit a few years later) fellow Ulstermen the Moondogs' "Who's Gonna Tell Mary" and "Talking in the Canteen".
1977 suffers from the same problem which seems to bedevil all bands who are hyped before they have actually released anything, namely a kind of musical schizophrenia. On the one hand, the band try to remain true to their influences and their roots, in this case, as close as possible to the snot-nosed brats of punk-powerpop. On the other hand, they are trying to appeal to the mass market with radio-friendly banality which is, unfortunately, the only way it seems anyone is going to get commercial success of a scale sufficient to justify the hype.
The result is an album which is not entirely consistent, reflecting the two diverse forces pulling upon it. On the one hand you get the silliness of "Kung Fu", with its fun-filled name-dropping of Fu Man-chu, Jacky Chan, Mr. Miyagi and the X-Men, pure punk-powerpop if ever there was any; on the other you get the thrusting "I'd Do Anything" and I swear Black Sabbath have done that riff before. In between those two extremes, Ash careen around sloppy distortion ("Innocent Smile"), irritatingly pushy ("Lost in You") and slow paced jangle-pop ("Gone the Dream").
It is almost as if the band know this, and resent the pressures placed upon them. When you see that the final track is showing up as over 17 minutes long, you suspect a hidden track. When you get to the end of the hiatus what you find is a bunch of teenagers, clearly drunk, taking great amusement in the sound of urination and vomiting. That one of them asks if they are recording suggests that they wanted their own comment included on the album regarding what they thought about the whole process.
But for all the difficulty in pinning Ash down, it is clear that the band are at their best when they stick to what they know they are good at. The catchiest hook on the album can be found on "Girl from Mars" which is easily the best track. Not far behind is the opener, "Lose Control". Ash are clearly a better band when they bed their sound down deeper in the fertile soil of pop music than when they explore other genres.
For a debut album 1977 is not bad. But in all honesty it is not as good as it could have been. On the plus side the songs are all well-written and well-performed. On the downside, the whole album is just too inconsistent. When it is good it is good, when it is bad it is distinctly unremarkable. I cannot really lay the blame for this at the feet of the band. This is what is always going to happen when you have a band whose first album carries such high expectations after all the hype which had followed them around. It would take Ash another album or so before they fully-formed their own identity.
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on 2011-02-20 CharlesMartel Said:
Ash have now indicated that they will only release albums from now on USB stick. An interesting move.