Reprise Records, 1996


REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Ash is a British rock band that had a few hits in the United Kingdom but made no headway here in the United States. I can't answer why Ash and other British rock bands have had trouble succeeding in the U.S., but I do think that Americans are missing out on some very good music. And it is a shame that many Americans have never heard Ash's 1996 release, which is called 1977 because that is when the band members were born. If you do the math, you will realize that I am talking about teenagers who write some pretty cool tunes, better than a lot of older artists I've heard.

Their songs might not have the emotional depth of Fiona Apple, who is around the same age, but they do show some cleverness and charm. Ash are obviously influenced by the alternative rock scene. Their overall sound recalls bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or their fellow countrymen, Bush. But unlike Bush, they add an interesting spin to the genre. Whereas Bush is content to just imitate the Seattle bands so much so that you would think they are from there, Ash is not afraid to add a distinctive Britishness to their music, as they seem to also be influenced by the 90's Britpop bands as well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ash show they mean business right off the bat with "Lose Control", a blistering guitar, bass, and drum attack that is so loud, singer Tim Wheeler is just about drowned out. The next song, "Goldfinger", is also loud but more melodic, not unlike a Stone Temple Pilots song. There was no excuse for this song not be a hit in America. "Girl From Mars" shifts gears once again as the guitars are turned down a little, and you hear the Britpop influence with a melody that is guaranteed to stick in your head for days.

Other highlights include "Kung Fu", which shows that Ash can write and perform Ramones style songs to a tee. This tribute to Kung Fu movies even includes a reference to the Ramones song, "Teenage Lobotomy". And "Let It Flow" and "Angel Interceptor" manage to sound like perfect power-pop gems without losing any of their grunginess. The result is two songs that come off sounding like a heavier Matthew Sweet.

The production by Owen Morris and Ash is very well done, giving the band a nice grungy sound when needed, like on the scorchers "I'd Give You Anything" or "Innocent Smile", or with the addition of strings on the power ballads like "Gone The Dream" and "Oh Yeah". As good as their music sounds, it seems the singing was not mixed well, but that could be because Wheeler does not have Kurt Cobain's snarl, instead opting for Dave Grohl's mellower approach. One bad move has to be what is by far the worst bonus track I've ever heard which consists of band members in a vomit competition. I guess boys will be boys.

Ash are a promising band that seem to have listened to everything from The Smiths to Sonic Youth and apply these influences with surprising seamlessness. Not many bands can combine relentless jamming and pop smarts without sounding awkward but Ash manage to do pull it off. Sure, some hard rock fans might be putoff by the poppier moments, and pop fans might not appreciate the heavier moments, but for me, 1977 is an interesting, unpredictable listen.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.