Intergalactic Sonic 7"
ever should an album be given a perfect score. Never. So, it only figures that a compilation containing the singles a band has already released on past albums would get it. Greatest Hits and Best Ofs are even less deserved, especially when the band hasn’t even broken up. I mean, this band is in their prime, even if they have been around for an unbelievable decade. But really, it’s impossible to resist temptation with this album.
Ash began as a band that was dumped into the Britpop mess against their own will, where they were associated with a million forgettable bands. What saved them was the fact that their gifted singer/songwriter Tim Wheeler has a strong love for melody and loud guitars, two things people need in their lives. These two elements have taken him a long way, along with the band’s persistent drummer Rick McMurray (played with broken ribs at a festival earlier this year, against doctor’s orders) and the self-destructive, original “Jackass”, bassist Mark Hamilton. Wheeler has always had the gift of writing a good tune (one which has been shared with other members of the band on various songs), and it is captured perfectly on this record.
The oldest song here, “Jack Names the Planets”, which dates back to 1994 is as good as any of its companions on this record, save the earlier production quality, of course. Combining the thrill of The Buzzcocks with Cheap Trick melodies, the song gained them instant attention, and thank God for that. “Kung Fu” and “Girl From Mars” are more golden oldies, but they are songs that made the band into a hit-single-making-machine. The former, a noisy blast of punk spirit and youthful exuberance, featuring an impressive handclap section, and and the latter, their first Top 20 hit, a beautiful song that showed Wheeler’s talent for penning love songs.
And where would the fans be without Wheeler’s ability to play cupid with words and harmonies. 1977’s “Goldfinger” and “Oh Yeah”, are even more proof of his love song capacity. They both share the warm and fuzzy feeling of the moment you get when you first fall for someone, and even though they’re six years old now, they sound just as beautiful as they did the first time round.
The one track here that is probably the most important single for the band is, surprisingly, one of their more underrated songs. “A Life Less Ordinary”, a song written to accompany the film, was a blistering speed of light that did a terrific job of capturing all of the quirky, love-inspired action of the movie in four minutes. Its importance lies in the fact that it marks the point where the band’s line-up changed. Adding another guitarist, Charlotte Hatherly, brought more power to the band, as well as another songwriter into the bloodstream, and it can be heard instantly on the song, when the second guitars come in.
When the band made a slight change in direction with their second full-length, Nu-Clear Sounds, which for some reason they were knocked for (?!?), they still managed to strike gold. “Jesus Says” is a brazen tribute to New York Dolls-territory sleaze, yet it’s remarkably catchy, with irresistible “woohoos” showing up in between verses and the chorus. And “Wild Surf” is their bounciest song ever, knocking you back and forth like the waves it speaks of, but with a chorus that sounds like it was written back in Motown circa 1966.
Last year’s Free All Angels saw five brilliant and very different singles released from the album (unheard of!), while a sixth was even mentioned but cancelled to avoid taking the piss out of the album. Lead single “Shining Light” is probably Wheeler’s greatest songwriting moment. The song not only won him a prestigious award (Ivor Novello award for outstanding songwriting), but it showed a maturity that wasn’t as evident before. “Candy” was another masterwork, featuring a Walker Brothers sample of a Bacharach classic, “Make It Easy On Yourself”. How esteemed could you get? Yet, “Burn Baby Burn”, Sonic 7”s rightful lead off track, shows that Wheeler was never about to mature into the next Phil Collins. It’s the frontrunner for the definitive Ash song: a giant ball of fuzzed-up energy that explodes immediately and captures the band at its most triumphant point.
While there still are many who do not know of Downpatrick, Ireland’s greatest export, there is still plenty of time, and here is the best place to start. Intergalactic Sonic 7”s is a record that has no faults. Most bands do these compilations for the money or to fulfil a contract, but this band is releasing it because they want to celebrate. Hell, they even threw in a new single, “Envy”, which is by far, one of the best songs of the year. Does it sound like any other of theirs? No, and that’s what they’ve done right all along. Pop music can only go so far, but Ash keep finding ways to keep it fun and cool to listen to, while maintaining their integrity. They don’t keep reinventing themselves, they just keep bettering themselves, and that is something that is apparent all over this retrospective.
*Please note that the first run of this album includes a bonus disc, Cosmic Debris, which is a selection of the band’s best B-sides to date. It will be well worth the effort to track one down.
Reviewed by: Cam Lindsay
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01