Music: Ash * * * *
A - Z Vol. 1 (Atomic Heart Records)
Three years ago, Ash announced that they would stop making studio albums and concentrate on singles instead.
Factors such as the download culture and the poor performances of their last two albums, Meltdown and Twilight of the Innocents, certainly played their part in the decision -- but one also suspects the trio were excited about the prospect of releasing songs on their own label whenever the mood took them, rather than waiting for an album's worth of material to be finished.
Thus, every fortnight for the past six months, Tim Wheeler, Rick McMurray and Mark Hamilton have been releasing a new single on digital and as limited-edition vinyl.
Some 26 songs will be released over the course of a year, with each assigned a letter of the alphabet. The first 13 are collected here, and Volume 2 is expected in October.
It's an intriguing and quaint way to release music and it has breathed new life into a once- great band that had lost their way.
As a collection of songs, this is easily Ash's best since 2001's masterful Free All Angels, and as each track was originally released independently of each other, there's a hugely eclectic feel to the material. Yet, the power pop sensibilities that made the band's name are intact right throughout.
The first single released in the project, A: True Love 1980, is the sound of a band mapping out new territory while also drawing from their early days. A giddy electro-pop rush, keyboards dominate.
C: Arcadia finds the three in more conventional territory with guitars to the fore, but it is none the poorer for that. Euphoric, urgent and unadulterated, it's a single cut from classic Ash cloth.
So too is H: Space Shot, a perky 80s slice of power pop that fuses a new-found love of synthesizers and the band's well-honed guitar-bass-drums template. The term 'insanely catchy' was devised for a song such as this.
There's maturity to the song-writing too. F: Pripyat is inspired by the now abandoned Ukrainian city that was devastated by the Chernobyl disaster and finds Wheeler singing tenderly over a piano and drum-machine backdrop before the song dissolves into a stadium-sized chorus.
It's fantastic stuff, and the standard rarely slips. Judging from the first half of this commendable project, Ash have well and truly resurrected themselves.
Burn it: A: True Love 1980; C: Arcadia; F Pripyat; H: Space Shot