ALBUM REVIEW: Ash – Race The Night

4.0 rating
Race The Night

My first encounter with Ash may be similar to many folks. I heard “Girl from Mars” in 1995  and thought, “What a fine-sounding bunch of minstrels these are. I must go away to my local purveyor of records and purchase a copy.” Or words to that effect. I always become excited when something new in the music stratosphere enthusiastically rouses my interest.

Whilst I was suitably impressed by the offering from Downpatrick’s finest, I didn’t expect them to be still releasing music in 2023. Not just music, but good quality music at that. The period they emerged from saw many bands appear, only to disappear just as quickly. However, Ash seems to have had very different thoughts about the longevity of their career. Now, they are releasing their eighth studio album, Race The Night, which they also produced.

The band’s previous offering in 2018, Islands, had been well received, so hopes were high this new release would continue the trend. It seems as if Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray decided to move from the power pop vibe of their last album and unleash a salubrious globule of hard rock instead. As Wheeler puts it, “I played a shit-ton of guitar in the pandemic and spent one particularly bored moment in lockdown mastering every single note of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. There are some quite outstanding guitar solos on this record, which are probably a result of that!” And he’s not wrong, folks; there’s some belters.

The album’s title track gets the ball rolling. It makes for a steady start to proceedings. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a safe pair of hands to get us underway. A mix of solid guitars and a catchy rhythm makes it an ideal radio song. It tells a tale of chance encounters and grasping opportunities with both hands, something many of us can connect with as we sit and rue the possibilities we didn’t seize in life. Carpe diem, folks.

‘Usual Places’ strikes a chord with me. It is a song about seeing your old haunts disappear; as a result, parts of what made you feel alive evaporate with them. “Still reminiscing about the old disgraces/The drunken chases on the staircases/The usual places are gone, are gone”, Wheeler laments. But this song, which has a Green Day feel, also makes you realise that there are still memories to make and new stories to write. You have to go looking for them.

Three tracks in, and we are presented with ‘Reward In Mind’. It’s a track that wears concrete boots and thumps and pounds along at a pedestrian pace. It isn’t a bad track, but it doesn’t quite match some of the other musical fare offered throughout Race The Night.

Placing their rock hats to one side momentarily, ‘Oslo’ is a beautiful ballad with a wonderful duet between Wheeler and Dutch singer Démira. The female vocal brings a different dimension to this track, and it helps it to stand out on an album bursting with rock riffs and guitar solos. Adding a soaring, absorbing string arrangement elevates the track further and brings power to the composition.

Have you ever had a toothache? Or maybe sciatica? You know that throbbing, nagging sensation that keeps on keeping on with no respite? That’s what the guitar riff in ‘Like A God’ is like. But this isn’t a criticism. It just growls at you incessantly, refusing to give up without a fight before finally forcing you to submit to its powers. This is a proper slice of rock that gets the body pumping. As Hamilton puts it, “It’s definitely got Led Zeppelin vibes.”. I can’t argue with that.

Who’s up for an alt-rock hurricane of sound? That’s what ‘Peanut Brain’ delivers, and does it well. “You’ve got a way of seeing things that seem/Like they go oddly against the grain/Truly I admire the workings of/Your peanut brain”, sings Wheeler as my mind starts to think of Laurence Fox. Chiming in at just one minute and forty seconds, it barrels along at a fair lick and reminds me of some of They Might Be Giant’s more rock-like offerings.

Moving on to ‘Crashed Out Wasted’, we are given the opportunity to really listen to Wheeler’s vocals. There’s a clarity to the track that really makes his voice stand out front and centre, with the instrumentation standing a step behind. The boy can sing. The track features what a newly teetotal McMurray jokes is his attempt to “sum up 29 years of heavy drinking in one drum part”. There’s an engaging crescendo at the end of the song, which features a cracking guitar solo. Wheeler spoke the truth! It is backed up with superb pounding, driving, and tribal drums by McMurray.

“God damn, I’m outta luck/I gotta listen to you, oh man, what the fuck?/Someone dangerously dumb/With a posse of numbskull knuckle-dragging scum/Brain Dead!” Wheeler cries out as his frustrations are abundantly evident in ‘Braindead’. We all know the sort of arse wipe he means. I can empathise with his angst. Sadly, there seems to be a rise in this sort of person – using the term loosely, of course.

As ‘ Double Dare ‘ starts, we now drift into a ’70s metal feel. Hamilton also provides us with an authentic prog-rock feel with his synth sound here. This all merges to tell a story of one person’s struggle against the world. It is an absolute explosion of a song. Talking about this track, Wheeler states it is a “rocking Beastie Boys-type song with a lot of braggadocio in the lyrics”. It also features the return of turntablist Dick Kurtaine, who last scratched Ash’s hip-hop itch on 1998’s Nu-Clear Sounds. But don’t get too comfy…

Crank up the volume further and prepare for ‘Over and Out’ to smack you into next week. This is an actual kick-ass rock song that demands a good headbanging exertion. “Now you’re getting careless/I’ve seen it all before/You’re just an everyday two-faced liar/Fighting a pissing war”, proclaims Wheeler. It made me think of people like Trump, Farage and Johnson. In fairness, it could be the piss angle. No matter who the exact target of Wheeler’s ire is, you can apply it to many people.

To end this musical sojourn, we are treated to the instrumental apex in the shape of ‘Like A God (Reprise)’. Thankfully, the previous song warms you up, as this is a headbanger’s delight. The track starts slowly and gradually picks up speed as it climaxes. It makes you feel like your head will explode in a delightful, melodic way. It is a cracking way to end an album as all three band members get to shine, showcasing their talents.

Having shut down their New York studio base as the pandemic started, the band headed back to the Oh Yeah studio in Belfast for this album. Maybe the change gave them another shot of inspiration, as Race The Night is up there with anything else Ash has released previously. Not bad for a bunch of old-timers!

Despite their long career, it is clear the desire to make great music hasn’t waned. It could be argued that their longevity drives them to search out new and creative ways, but without the fears, a new band may carry around with them. Ash have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves now, and it clearly benefits them if this album is anything to go by.

The track ordering helps this album. Time has been taken to get the best possible flow across the eleven songs. Splitting ‘Like A God’ into two parts was an inspired choice, especially as it helps conclude the album with perfection. So, get your special rock pants on and frolic in the pleasure that is Race The Night. Perhaps three is the magic number.


Xsnoize Author
Iam Burn 26 Articles
Iam Burn is a photographer based in the North East of England. Fave bands: R.E.M, The Lovely Eggs, Half Man Half Biscuit, Madness, Inspiral Carpets, Billy Bragg, The Pogues, The Proclaimers, The Ukrainians, They Might Be Giants, The Chats, Matt Berry, Lead Belly, Grace Petrie, The Beautiful South, Carter USM… and many more! Favourite album: Impossible to choose but Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Dead Kennedys is pretty awesome. Most embarrassing record still in my collection: Hole in my Shoe by Neil.

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