A few years ago, three teenagers titled their debut record after the
year they were born, 1977, not coincidentally the year associated with the
birth of punk rock. Ash caught a few ears with Goldfinger and were
alternately pegged the next Sex Pistols or Oasis. While they remained
popular in their native UK, success in America was more fleeting they
were subsumed in a wash of summer singles and faded out of view.
Two records later, Ash have abandoned a little of their bratty image, which
garnered them plenty of attention from the UK music tabloids, and sauced up
their sound a bit. Nu-Clear Sounds has their smartest songs and
biggest riffs, and while it pays lip service to some of their idols, it's
still a little too "less-filling." Butch Vig and Arthur Baker come in to work
their respective magics on a couple of tracks, but the record never amounts
to much more than ear candy.
For ear candy, though, it's certainly packed with peanuts. Adding a new
rhythm guitarist gives the band a little more room to play around,
especially on the lead-off "Jesus Says" ([RealAudio excerpt] which shares a name with a Velvet
Underground song but not much else: for that, see the "Sunday Morning"-style
"I'm Gonna Fall"), which has great ooh-ooh's and lots of Vig's trademark
gloss. Two songs toss in a turntablist for extra skronk: "Numbskull" (RealAudio excerpt) has the
stop-start riffage and the tasty chorus, but "Death Trip 21" (RealAudio excerpt) outrawks
Surprisingly, Ash also have quite a way with a ballad. There's nothing too
overblown about "Folk Song" or "Burn Out," other than the lyrics, and even
the power ballad "Low Ebb" never gets too close to Pyromania or
Hi-Infidelity for comfort. The Rock Ballad is an endangered species
most listeners don't want earnestness unless it's earnest fury these
days and Ash, whose contributions are tuneful and just a little
humble, might just help resuscitate the moribund form.
Once the record ends though with the Baker-produced theme song to the box office brick "A Life Less Ordinary" you're not left with much
more than the refrain from "Numbskull" or the opening guitar line of "Jesus
Says" to remember it by. Nu-Clear Sounds is, in the end, a kind of
pop bonbon: inessential, but briefly, sweetly satisfying.