Review Summary: The record that saved the band's career also happens to be their magnum opus.
After the commercial failure of Nu-clear Sounds, the band Ash was almost broke and on the verge of putting out. The comeback album, Free All Angels, was exactly want the band needed to keep going, and also happens to be their most successful work, out of a rather extensive discography of songs (many B-sides).
Chances are you have probably heard songs like "Shining Light" or "Burn Baby Burn" somewhere before. For me, "Burn Baby Burn" was the only track I knew for 8-9 years or so, before I discovered the rest of Ash's body of work. But to only know these songs would be a mistake, as Free All Angels is a rare record that is solid from beginning to end.
There are several variables that likely contributed to Free All Angels being the Britpop classic it remains in history. For one, the band did not do anything complicated or experimental, as done in Nu-clear Sounds. What we have here are tremendously catchy hooks, pop-punk blended well with enough bubblegum and edge, and a lot of good tracks. Frontman Tim Wheeler seems to be a master in churning out such tunes. Another thing that likely helped was the increased usage of utility musician Charlotte Hatherley, who not only contributed as an extra guitar player and piano player, but also added great vocal depth to many songs, with a female voice. "Darth" Mark Hamilton also plays super-groovy bass throughout the album, tuned loud enough to hear it consistently in tracks. "Rock" Rick McMurray is probably doing a hell of a job on drums, but I am too musically-illiterate to know.
Free All Angels produced many singles. As mentioned prior, "Shining Light" and "Burn Baby Burn" are prominent Ash tracks that are different. While "Shining Light" is a more progressively developing track, "Burn Baby Burn" hits more directly. "Candy" is often a polarizing track, with its super syrupy pace throughout, which seems to evoke something felt inside. I think if it weren't for the late guitar solo, it would be not a great track. "Sometimes" is an interesting track that is better known for the catchy guitar parts in the refrain sections. "There's A Star" also spawned a single, a slower song, that culminates with a solo in the bridge.
Then there are the zippier, lesser-known filler tracks which turn out to be remarkable in their own right. "Pacific Palisades" is an example of a sub-2 minute track that hits fast with the familiar catchy hooks, and great vocals by Wheeler and Hatherley. "Nicole" is a gem in its own right, with the constant "I said no / Oh my Nicole / my Nicole" repeated throughout, with wonderful repeating guitar chorus and bass parts.
The no-filler all-killer type approach Free All Angels takes upon makes for a solid record throughout. There are few flaws (I am not big on "Walking Barefoot" as others are), but the music and lyrics are sound and as addictive as whatever the hell it is you can't resist.
1. Walking Barefoot - 7
2. Shining Light - 10
3. Burn Baby Burn - 10
4. Candy - 8.5
5. Cherry Bomb - 9.5
6. Submission - 7.5
7. Someday - 10
8. Pacific Palisades - 9
9. Shark - 8
10. Sometimes - 9
11. Nicole - 10
12. There's a Star - 10
13. World Domination - 7.5
Cohesiveness - 8 - Songs jive very well through the album. No song is either too slow or too fast. Though the song placement of "World Domination" is a little unusual, given it is a weaker, filler-type track, less of a memorable closer.
Album Cover - 8 - There seems to be a beachy, California Dreams-like (throwback tv show here) theme going on that jives well with the album colors of sand and turquoise. Also helps that there are songs called "Walking Barefoot", "Pacific Palisades" and "Shark."
Upshot - Ash's best work results in a win for the listener. Super-catchy tracks, that would likely stay with one for a long time. Anyone who likes a Weezer song would like this album a lot. I'm sure plenty of other people would like these tracks as well.