Why is Ash still this good so many years later? By rights, they should be washed up and touring their whole albums in one of those sad "our best album all-the-way-through"-gigs (the Manics excepted, of course). Instead, they're here with Kablammo! and the disc practically bursts out of the speakers as cut after cut reminds a listener why this band is so darn good.
From the opening Spaghetti Western soundtrack-meets-Muse flurry of "Cocoon", through the stomp of "Let's Ride", to the "There's a Star"-recalling "Machinery", a listener is in gloriously familiar territory from the start. These cuts are lean and mean with little wasted. Ash sound the same here as they did in 1998 and you can take that for what it's worth; if you were expecting them to pull a Radiohead, you're gonna be disappointed.
No, Ash made superb, largely economical power-punk, even if it involves cheerleaders for vocal effects like on "Go! Fight! Win!", a slight misstep on Kablammo! for me. Still, "Free" has a fantastic melody line and ranks up there with "Shining Light" as one of Ash's best and biggest hooks.
"Moondust" is positively sublime and places Ash -- again -- in Queen territory, for lack of a better comparison. The cut is, like the best Manic Street Preachers stuff, orchestrated rawk. Bombastic? Yes, but also immensely catchy and affecting. Seriously folks, this is one of their best songs ever. Will they be able to pull this one off live? Not sure but anxious to see.
"Evel Knievel" roars past like this year's "Kung Fu" while "Hedonism" blazes by, as others may have mentioned, on a riff that is dangerously close to "Out There" by Dinosaur Jr. Assuming that J. Mascis doesn't sue, it's a pretty fab riff rocker. "Dispatch" and "Shutdown" bring out the guitar crunch, the mid-tempo and stompin' varieties, while "For Eternity" is a pure power ballad of the sort that Elton John would write if he could still pen hooks this big. Direct and aching, this is one of the highlights of Kablammo! for me, largely 'cause it shows another side of this band apart from the punchier stuff. Imagine "Angel Interceptor" slowed down a bit and you'll see what I mean. It's that sort of thing.
"Bring Back the Summer" ends Kablammo on one of those happy-but-sad-moments that only the best musicians can pull off in a simple pop song. Maybe 'cause I first cranked it this week as the hint of Autumn was firmly in the D.C. air, or maybe 'cause I'm getting older, but I might have teared up a tiny, tiny bit when I first played this. Good pop music can make me do that 'cause good pop music makes everything seem right with the world at certain moments. And Kablammo!, like a lot of the best stuff from Ash, is great pop music in many, many spots. Remarkably consistent, the album showcases every awesome angle of Ash.
Ash are playing a concert in this area with D.C.'s own Dot Dash. You already know how much I love those guys and how great their latest album, Earthquakes and Tidal Waves, is so you don't need a reminder now from me. Find out details on the upcoming Ash/Dot Dash gig on September 25th at Jammin Java here.
[Photo credits: Alex John Beck and Alex Blake]