Just a heap of smouldering Ash?

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Back in the early 1990s – with Britpop bands like Oasis and Blur dominating the guitar-based aspect of commercial music and bubblegum pop covering the slightly more light-hearted end – there was a group that seemed to be around, but that was never huge. Their name is remembered, but (after a bit of half-hearted research) very little of their music. That band is Ash. And, as a comment on their relative obscurity, not even the media player I used to listen to the album on my laptop would recognise them.

This ‘best of” collection is, to be fair to the group, not the worst collection of songs in the world. The punk rock roots of the band are definitely audible, and the few tracks that I recognised caused a bit of nostalgic excitement. The music has lots in common with some of the more generic ‘indie’ music of recent years, and on occasion, the guitar parts sound a bit reminiscent of some heavier stuff – I found myself thinking of Thin Lizzy! It’s a bit shocking therefore that the band seems to have had so little recognition in comparison to their contemporaries, despite the fact that out of their six studio albums, two have been certified gold and two even managed to go platinum.

Yet there are no real stand out songs from the band’s entire back catalogue. Despite this, the songs they’ve chosen are, surprisingly, not entirely awful. However, I wouldn’t say all nineteen of them are strong enough to be included on a ‘best of’ album. If they wanted this to be a true retrospective of a career of a band who had only limited success, then they should have been more selective with the song choices, possibly limiting the list to more of a standard album length of 10-12 tracks only.

The question that this ‘best of’ collection of singles begs to ask is, how can an act who rarely broke the UK top ten, and has been resigned to the “where are they now” pile of bands, have a collection of best singles? The name is familiar to most of us, but the songs are less so, or at least, there are very few of us that could name all nineteen of them. A ‘best of’ collection implies that the group has had enough success to warrant an album dedicated entirely to it, and, for Ash, that mass success has never really come. To me, they will always be one of those acts that lingered in the background – the kind of band that in the mid-90s always had a track on one of those chart compilation albums that your grandparents got you for Christmas because they didn’t really know what to get you.The only real recent success that the band has had was that the intro to their song ‘Burn Baby Burn’ has been used as the theme music to the BBC Stand up show ‘Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Road Show’.

Overall, despite the fact that there are a great many songs that seem to be on the album merely as time-fillers to bring the track list closer to the twenty songs that seems about normal on ‘best of’ compilations, nineteen songs chosen from six albums is a bit much. Especially as there were very few real hits amongst them. But the majority of the songs aren’t all bad. So if you are partial to a bit of modern ‘indie’ music (whatever than means) then it’s not a bad collection, although there are better albums around. Therefore, either if you genuinely are a fan, then it’s probably worth it as an album. But if not, then just stick to the couple of tracks on the 90s compilations.

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