Just Dessert

Butch Vig guest produces several tracks.

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

it.

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.