Twilight of the Innocents
im Wheeler has announced that Twilight of the Innocents will be Ash’s last album, but not because they’re splitting up. Rather, Northern Ireland’s finest pop-punkers are intending to focus their attention on download-driven singles rather than continue in the endless drudge of relocate / write / record / promote / tour that producing albums seems to have locked them into. If one takes their near-exemplary record of past chart hits as evidence, this is a good move. If one takes the fact that they’ve just made their best album in years as evidence, it seems rather foolish.
Staggeringly for a band that’s been around for fifteen years, Tim Wheeler and Mark Hamilton only turned thirty this year (Rick McMurray beat them by twelve months). Equally as staggering is that their youthful energy has only seen them produce five albums in this time; but then again, that’s the problem.
Just as much of a problem are song titles like “Palace of Excess” and lyrics about “suicide girls,” which suggest that Ash haven’t matured much beyond those initial adolescent rushes and iconography stolen from sci-fi and kung-fu movies, even if the song in question reads as an indictment of the peripheral shit that can tempt a band rather than an endorsement of it.
Other than a few clichéd song titles and lyrics (this is rock ’n’ roll after all), Twilight of the Innocents actually demonstrates a refreshing maturity and breadth; sure it rocks, but never in a clumsy or callous manner, and songs like “You Can’t Have It All” and “Blacklisted” drop a huge amount of attention to detail in alongside their blistering riffs, thundering tempos, and shoutable choruses.
In fact from the juddering opening riff of “Ritual” to the beautifully-rendered decay that closes “Polaris”; from the guitar histrionics that climax “Shattered Glass” to the winding, surging trail blazed by the closing title track (the most breathlessly epic and mature adolescent punk rock symphony Wheeler’s ever penned), Twilight of the Innocents is by far Ash’s most realized, balanced, and diverse album sonically; there’s nothing that quite jumps out with the instant pop classicism of “Girl from Mars” or “Sometimes,” but there’s also nothing that strikes as lazy or willful either.
So why are Ash stopping doing something they’re so good at? The unadorned pop thrills embedded in the chorus of “Shadows” explicitly demonstrate the dichotomy of the band—they’ve always been wannabe metallers with solid gold hits in their hearts. Reconciling these disparate elements seems to take it out of Ash—hence, perhaps, the extended breaks between records—and has probably contributed to the press and public not quite knowing what to make of the band either.
Still, if Ash really are stepping away from making albums, they’re going out on something of a high, because Twilight of the Innocents is a fine record even if it’s not their best. That honor, fittingly, probably falls to their singles collection.