Saturday, 23 May 2009

Return of the kings?

Ash are back! I'm sure that's a much-overused sentence but, damn it, they don't half have a penchant for disappearances and comebacks. They're also one of those bands who feel like they've been around forever. Hell, over the past 15 years Ash have practically written the textbook on summery boy-meets-loves-or-leaves-girl guitar-pop.

Sadly, they seemed to have meant what they said at the time of the release of 2007's Twilight of the Innocents: that it was their last album release in the traditional format. Fortunately, for those convinced of the imminence of a split, they've also stuck to their word that they would continue to release material online.

This week heralds the band's first release since TOTI, the free download 'Return of White Rabbit', which is...well, slightly underwhelming, frankly. It seems to mark a strange change in sound for Ash - almost as if their well-honed trademark sound is now being filtered through a post-new rave prism. The guitar is bit anaemic; the bass is a bit too heavy; the echoiness of the vocals falls slightly to the wrong side of Klaxons. Oh, and the pre-chorus "ooaah" reminds me too much of the titles from Gok's Fashion Fix. That last one is a subtle, but once you've picked up on it, it's impossible to un-notice. It's certainly no 'Burn Baby Burn'.

It does still have the classic Ash hook, though, and a rather nice synth solo, so their future doesn't look entirely bleak. Excitingly, they've announced, alongside 'Return of White Rabbit''s release, that there is more to come. In September, the launch of the A-Z Series will begin.

The A-Z Series seems obviously designed to show off Ash's new way of going about things. Rather than release a single or two, an album and then another single or two, they'll instead be releasing a download/vinyl single per fornight on their own Atomic Heart label. For a year. Starting with 'a' and working their way right through to 'z'. Yes, that's 26 singles in 52 weeks.

I have to say, I'm pretty keen to see how all this pans out. In theory, I think the idea is a solid one. Fans will, in essence, have something new to look forward to every two weeks. Spreading the downloads in such a manner should also hopefully keep the cost of these singles down. The only worry is that the novelty will wear off - after all, half the fun of purchasing an album is the sense of occasion which arguably accompanies it.

For an act that have long been known as a "singles band", this bold move could well pay off. Ash may not be a new band, but it seems they're certainly not short on new ideas. Roll on September; I'm excited.

'Return of White Rabbit' available free at

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