Turn Back Time to 1977 With Ash

Oct 14, 2004 (Updated Oct 14, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Some outstanding songs, in particular Kung Fu, Goldfinger, and Girl from Mars

Cons:Some awful songs, most notably album opener Lose Control

The Bottom Line: Maybe not as good as some folks would have you think, but 1977 is still relatively entertaining fare.

There seemed no more logical place to start with Ash than their most highly regarded album to date�. All things considered I honestly expected something less bratty punk-pop and more fun pop-rock than what I got. In fact, I don’t quite know what to make of 1977 as it does indeed blend elements of so many varieties of music.

Titled after the birth year of two of three members of Ash, 1977 isn’t an entirely consistent album. On one level it reeks of the radio friendly but vapid schlock I’ve come to know and despise in recent years. On an entirely more inspired level there is some slight spark that recalls both Blur and Foo Fighters. The first song is by far the most troublesome of the entire album. It is here, on Lose Control, that the album is really hindered. The song for lack of a more appropriate word “sucks.” It sucks the life out of the largely superior songs that follow.

Irish by birth but rather American in sound, Ash formed in 1992 when hometown friends Tim Wheeler (guitar, vocals) and Mark Hamilton (bass guitar) in addition to drummer Rick McMurray came together. In their mid-teens at the time, Ash was hailed as the “next big thing” before almost anybody had heard them. With the British hype machine in full force, Ash soon had a record deal which quickly resulted in the 1994 (1995 if you are talking about the painfully slow-to-release-uber-popular-UK-music US) release of Trailer. However it took until 1996 for Ash to make their full-length debut with 1977 (Trailer is actually regarded as an “extended EP” of sorts).

1977 is at the same time baffling as it is entertaining. The confusing moments come when the band slips into the stereotypical punk-pop role. I’ve already mentioned the issues I have with Lose Control. Similarly, I find myself doubting the band’s potency with unnecessarily abrasive songs I’d Give You Anything (there’s a definite hint of Black Sabbath here), feedback-laden and messy Innocent Smile, and the annoying and whiny (though less abrasive) Lost in You. On this album it is clear that Ash is better suited to songs rooted in pop rather than heavy metal or punk (gasp!).

There are songs here that are plainly very good if not outstanding. They can’t quite make up for the ones which are of sub-par quality, but they do still make it hard to ignore Ash. I’m particularly drawn to the hilarious homage to Jackie Chan, Kung Fu. I honestly had no clue who the action star was in 1996, but clearly Ash did--not to mention name dropping the likes of the X-Men, Scooby Doo, Mr. Miagi, and (get this) Gary Glitter. Even better? The actual music is actually good. These are the only heavy guitars and even slight punk sounds I can stand on the entire album. How in the world can I say anything about a band that name drops the X-Men?

But the modest, uneasy, jangly pop-rock songs Girl from Mars, Goldfinger, Gone the Dream, Let It Flow, and Lost in You. I appreciate that Ash can switch things up. One track they are punk-pop, another hard rock, and still another pop. Never able to be pigeonholed on 1977, the band certainly appeals to a variety of listeners. Had the songs been consistently GOOD I would have most definitely found something more to like in them. Unfortunately as it stands, the most I can say is that when Ash is good they are great and when they are bad they are derivative.

1977 is definitely a better than average album. The good songs mostly make up for the bad, but still I can’t quite forgive the mistakes especially early on with the misrepresentative and painful Lose Control. Ash deserves kudos for songs both well written and well performed (especially as far as Wheeler’s even and crystalline vocals go). If you’re looking for an album that crosses many boundaries and tries many things, 1977 might be a fine direction to look. If you’d prefer your music to have some sort of clear idea of purpose definitely consider going elsewhere.

In the context of Ash’s career, 1977 is easily the best respected work. Since 1996, the band has released three subsequent albums: Nu-Clear Sounds (1998), Free All Angels (2002), and most recently 2004’s Meltdown. All have been regarded as good, but somewhat lackluster offerings especially in comparison to the occasionally outstanding 1977. I suppose where you start your relationship with Ash is a personal decision. Choose wisely.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Track Listing:
01. Lose Control
02. Goldfinger
03. Girl from Mars
04. I’d Give You Anything
05. Gone the Dream
06. Kung Fu
07. Oh Yeah
08. Let It Flow
09. Innocent Smile
10. Angel Interceptor
11. Lost in You
12. Darkside Lightside

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