Review Summary: An essential overview of one of the finest singles bands of the last 20 years.
Too melodic to be punks, too gritty to be pop, too fresh-faced for grunge, and criminally under-appreciated whatever genre they may be, Ash have put out some awesome singles over the course of their career, thankfully collected for your listening pleasure in this very compilation, which brings together 19 3-minute gems in one manga-artwork'd CD. Hooray!
It's not a criticism to say that with most Ash singles, repeating the chorus for 3 minutes is more enjoyable than listening to the whole song. They're just THAT good, dammit - classics 'Girl From Mars' and 'Goldfinger' boast monumentally catchy refrains that ably tread the precarious line between 'anthemic, in a good way' and 'U2'. Bandleader and songwriter Tim Wheeler, as well as contributing endearingly relatable (read: weak but still awesome) vocals, provides elegant, winding lead guitar licks that lift tracks like 'Sometimes', with its lilting melody and cathartic chorus to new heights of pop perfection, and help elevate the music above ye olde standard power-pop chugging.
However, the backing really isn't all that important here - all it needs to do is complement Wheeler's myriad melodies without overshadowing them, which is exactly what it does. Having said that, the band do stretch out occasionally, such as on token-ballad 'Candy', whereby insistent piano plinkery is set against a classic AOR drumbeat and soaring strings. This is, thank god, better than it sounds on paper, as is most of the Ash oevure- It has that indefinable quality that makes good singles great. Put simply, if I were a Pitchfork writer I would be using the words je ne sais quoi
right about now.
Lyrically, the album is really nothing to yell about, though 'oh yeah, she was taking me over/oh yeah, it was the start of the summer' from 'Oh Yeah' has got to rank as one of pop's most exuberant opening couplets. Aside from this, there are some clever lines here and there, and the aforementioned 'Sometimes', with it's bittersweet depiction of faded love - 'sometimes it happens, feelings die/whole years are lost in the blink of an eye' does stand out, as does the Ivor Novello award-winning 'Shining Light', with it's somewhat novel love-related metaphors. Once again though, the lyrics take a backseat to the songwriting, which is probably a good thing, as Wheeler is no Dylan.
To summarise: fantastic melodies, great choruses, and enough youthful exuberance to get Will Oldham pogo-ing. It isn't original, it isn't groundbreaking or even particularly deep: it's just fantastic pop music, musical escapism at its very best.