Review Summary: A glorious, and sadly forgotten debut.
I've always thought of the term "great singles band" as a bit of a backhanded compliment. Yes, it acknowledges the fact that the group in question are capable of producing excellent music, but it's also a phrase with plenty of negative connotations, namely that none of their actual albums are worth their salt. Northern Irelanders Ash are often called a great singles band (and indeed they were), but landing that label has sadly caused many to overlook just how good their LP's were. Indeed it's telling that their popularity has fallen so significantly since they abandoned the format in 2008, and equally ironic that their standards have taken a nosedive since they began devoting their time exclusively to the 7". Sadly, instead of highlighting how good they once were, this fall from grace has caused many to forget how good Ash once were, and at no time did that beacon burn brighter than on their debut LP 1977 - named and inspired by the year in which Star Wars was released.
Although they had released a mini-album, Trailer, the previous year, this is an album which still bears the hallmarks of a band embarking on it's first steps. The entire record has a definite air of naïvety about it, with some of Tim Wheeler's songs coming across as somewhat primitive, and his vocal performance in particular sounding like that of an amateurish teenager. But in fairness, that's exactly what he and his bandmates were at this point, and it's that immaturity and youthful exuberance which fuels this record and makes it such a joy to listen to. Lyrically, it sticks to the tried and tested waters of love, loss and longing which you'd perhaps expect from such a young band, but there's just something about this record - something impossible to describe - which makes even it's most obvious flaws easy to bypass. Take a song like 'Gone The Dream,' for example. On the surface it's little more than a piece of reflective filler, yet it still possesses the heart and poignancy to render it more than a pleasant sidetrack.
Make no mistake, though, the singles are where this album peaks. Forget all the negative implications - Ash were a great singles band, and nowhere does that motion ring truer than on 1977. Five were released in all, each one absoloutly brilliant and proof that Wheeler was an outrageously gifted songwriter. Peaking at number three on the UK chart, 'Girl From Mars' was the most successful, and it's not hard to see why. Aside from having a sensational arsenal of hooks, it's also a song which hits hard, with a basic pop-punk template beefed up by a barrage of grungy guitars which give it an added edge. The story's a similar one for the Jackie Chan themed 'Kung Fu,' while late album highlight 'Angel Interceptor' provides an absolute masterclass in catchy songwriting, with a chorus which still hits the right spots fifteen years on. 'Goldfinger' and 'Oh Yeah' on the other hand are more reflective cuts, but no less joyous, and exemplify the notion of teenage innocence which the album as a whole encompasses so brilliantly.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also songs like 'Lose Control' and 'Darkside Lightside' which show the trio's heavier side, being filled to the brim with ballsy riffs and displaying that they were more than capable of rocking out once in a while. It's a style that would become more prevalent on follow-up Nu-Clear Sounds, and then again on 2004's more streamlined Meltdown, but neither of those outings could match the sheer urgency of the tracks here, and as such come across as suitably inferior. In fact, that's something that's true of the rest of Ash's career in every sense. They certainly had their moments post-1977, and continued in producing a string of fine singles, but they never quite managed to recapture the magic that's encased here. Newcomers would perhaps be better off investing in fantastic singles collection Intergalactic Sonic 7"s for a summary of their peak years, but as far as the LP format goes, Ash - try as they did - never quite managed to replicate the glory of this debut outing.