It’s hard to believe that it’s been quarter of a century since Northern Irish indie pop-punk trio Ash burst onto the scene in the mid-90s. 25 years later and the group have endured, still maintaining a loyal fanbase decades after Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray (and for a few years Charlotte Hatherley) played their role in a golden era of British guitar music. ‘Teenage Wildlife’ may be the third ‘best of’ collection, but it provides a superb overview of the band’s resilient career.
There are the hits that would’ve been truly foolish to omit: the 1997 single ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ a delirious headrush that captures the unit at the height of their powers. Still, in their teens when their debut album was released, it’s no surprise to find the rip-roaring ‘Girl From Mars’ present as well as the simple and effective guitar lines of ‘Uncle Pat’, the heaving riffage of ‘Goldfinger’, and ‘Oh Yeah”s tale of summer romance and long lost love. The stunning ‘Angel Interceptor’ is a live wire that still brings a dizzying rush, ‘Petrol’ buzzes with naive charm and ‘Jack Names The Planets’ delivers fresh, raucous teenage joy. The energy is genuinely infectious on the rowdy charge of 1996 classic Kung Fu.
The band’s debut may have been tough to follow and is still considered as their finest moment by many. However plenty of gold is to be found from the years that followed, and this collection serves a fine reminder of that. 1998’s ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ was their first album as a four-piece, offering a darker and more full-bodied sound and standing as a somewhat underrated LP all these years later. From it comes highlight ‘Jesus Says’ with its addictive Velvet Underground cool marking out one of the band’s peaks, amped up album cut ‘Projects’ and the West coast garage band pop of ‘Wild Surf’. With their late 90s output not hitting commercial expectations, 2001’s ‘Free All Angels’ was an album that clearly took aim with the charts in mind, represented here by the propulsive passion of the glorious ‘Burn Baby Burn’, and hard-hitting heartbreak anthem ‘Sometimes’. ‘Shining Light’ still burns as bright as ever, a masterful guitar pop song about chemistry and the stars, elevated by a glorious sky-high solo. From the same period comes album track ‘Walking Barefoot’, another wonderful encapsulation of youth, long summer days and memories of life-changing love. A major highlight.
Interestingly this compilation isn’t ordered chronologically, effectively giving it a better sense of variety and idea of the band’s versatility over the years. The ecstatic Phil Spector punk-pop of 2002’s ‘Envy’ contrasts with the pumping groove of ‘You Can’t Have It All’, while ‘Starcrossed’ and ‘Coming Around Again’ provide the big American-style rock slowies. ‘Arcadia’ dips into brash power pop, ‘Machinery’ rides on driving, dreamlike energy and ‘All That I Have Left’ is an interesting combo of grunge, Beach Boys vibes and stadium synth. Throughout the years we also get the slamming hard rock riffage of ‘Clones’, ‘Binary”s angular, synthetic new wave, the Buzzcocks-style hooks of ‘Cocoon’, and 80s sci-fi funk on ‘Return Of White Rabbit’. There’s the odd, synthetic ‘True Love 80’, epic rock ballad ‘End Of The World’, the sweeping, sorrowful ‘Dare To Dream’, and the sturdy ‘Orpheus’. ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’ is a nice choice of closer, showing how they can also turn their hand to progression and gradually building indie guitar epics, not a million miles from the Ash equivalent of ‘I Am The Walrus’.
Bringing us up to date are standout tracks from recent years which showed a reignition of the trio’s energy. ‘Annabel’ does a great job of balancing sentimental with rough-edged vibrancy, while the sweary punk kick of ‘Buzzkill’ is very different to the shimmery funk-pop of the excellent ‘Confessions In The Pool’ and newly recorded track ‘Darkest Hour Of The Night’, a bright and melodic disco ballad offset by melancholic lyrics.
A third disc is included with the deluxe edition, featuring B sides and rarities from the last two and a half decades. ‘I Shall Not Die’ is a nice example of their very tender side, and other standouts come with the hyperactive ‘Comet Tempel 1’ and the thunderous ‘Tinseltown’. As well as paying tribute to their heroes on Bowie, Undertones and Buzzcocks covers, they also give one of their old support bands a nod with the glam rock n roll explosion of Here Comes The Music, originally a late 90s single by the little known Fixed Stars.
As a 2CD and 3CD set, there are some notable omissions: 1998 single ‘Numbskull’ isn’t here, and neither is the early 2000s Top 40 hits ‘Candy’ and ‘There’s A Star’. In their place, the album tracks do actually provide better options and have been very well chosen. Overall, it’s a fantastic document of their achievements and a demonstration of how they have retained their essence over the years.