It’s usually around the age of 13 or 14 when teenagers start getting into some sort of musical genre they love. Rather than listening to whatevers on the radio or getting a copy of Now that’s what I call music 22,435 from nan for Christmas, suddenly a whole specific genre of music is opened up which allows you to become a fan. For me that genre was indie rock and for me that band was Ash.
Free All Angels is the bands 4th Album, and arguably their greatest achievement. The reason for this as I’m about to explain is sheer guts. Basically the release of their 3rd album Nu-clear Sounds, let’s just say, didn’t fair too well.
Money wasn’t flying in for them or the music label and times became hard, Ash had £2000 left in the bank before Free All Angels was released and that’s why it was such a gamble. The 90s were over where anyone who could slightly play guitar and sing had a chance of being signed, and the noughties had started, a new era for music, and it was do or die time for Ash. With a cash crisis and on the verge of being dropped, it seemed to create a musical monster out of the band, reinvigorating them and allowing them to create a record with a mix of their early punk style, beautiful ballads and indie classics.
When lead singer Tim Wheeler is on fire, he’s on fire. Gone was the writer’s block of Nu-Clear Sounds and back was the songwriter who brought us hit’s such as Girl From Mars and Oh Yeah.
Free All Angels arrived with a bang with lead single Shining Light, and from the moment the guitar led intro kicks in followed by an all-out sing along chorus, you know it’s something special. “Roman Candle’s that burn in the night, you are a shining light” sings Tim, full of rock swagger and with a noticeable improvement in vocals and lyrics from previous albums. It was the perfect song to announce their return, followed by the perfect second single in Burn Baby Burn. This was heard literally everywhere at the time of release, adverts, promotions, radio, TV shows, you name it. And with good cause, it was one of the most catchy indie anthems of the time, once it was in your head it was damned near impossible to get out. Add to this the fact that Ash’s cool and sexy guitarist Charlotte Hatherley produces in this track the best riff on the album and you know it’s time to throw in the towel and jump around like a 15 year old in a mosh pit.
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But the fun doesn’t stop there. Most bands would be happy to have two cracking songs such as these grace their album, but the hits keep coming. And it’s the way they do it; rock song, ballad, rock song, ballad, one minute you’re nodding along like Garth in Wayne’s World to Bohemian Rhapsody, the next you’re welling up with a beautiful ballad such as Sometimes, “sometimes it happens, feelings die, whole years are lost in the blink of an eye”.
Candy shows the band entering newer territory and again illustrates a braveness to try something different. The track features Jay Z style guitar plinks over a sample from The Walker Brothers Make It Easy On Yourself, effortlessly turning the song into a pop masterpiece.
I feel out of breath just writing about it, that’s how this album makes you feel and that’s what music should set out to do. There’s a Star is another album highlight, with a delightful violin fuelled nod to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the end, and then the record finishes with Ash calling on their punk route’s with album closer World Domination… and breathe.
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The reason this album works and is one of their greatest achievements is because the band grew up, had what felt like one more chance, and boy did they take it. When you’re backed into a corner you come out swinging and that’s exactly what they did, punching out with hit after hit and proving that they were more than just a 90s band, well done Ash, and we thank you for surviving.