Ash under glass

Jul 31, 2002 at 12:00 am

I’m getting quite a charge out of this whole Ted Williams deal. It just goes to show that whenever you involve lawyers, simple solutions get overlooked. Why couldn’t they just freeze Ted’s damned head to make the son happy and burn, baby, burn the rest of his body so that the daughter can fill an urn and get the sprinkling closure she needs?

But never mind the crematorium ... here’s Ash. If you’ve read this far thinking this article’s gonna be about former Bauhaus alumni and Love and Rockets blowhole Daniel Ash, you can be excused from class, you old-schoolster you. Not that there’s anything wrong with old school, but why talk to a guy who sings like a refrigerator hums when we can turn our attention over a band that makes big waves overseas but barely registers ripples over here? Here are four reasons why you can consider the Belfast foursome Ash quasi-old school:

1) The band doesn’t suck.

2) Singer Tim Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray were barely out of their teens when they had three Top-Five UK indie hits in 1995, the same period we Yanks were wasting ink on Silverchair.

3) Following the critically acclaimed debut album 1977 (so named after the year Wheeler and Hamilton were born), the former teenage punks expanded to a foursome with the addition of lead ax Charlotte Hatherly. This forced the press to use the term “guitar heroine” for the first time since Lita Ford donned spider leisurewear.

4) The band’s third album Free All Angels (just out in the United States) has already been out in Europe since spring of last year and is on its fifth single and fifth video. Can you even name an album that’s had five hit singles — let alone sported five videos — since Michael Jackson’s Bad? Even with a reported $44.8
million promotion budget for Invincible, he wasn’t able to get more than two videos made for his King of Pop flopperoo, and here’s a band with nary a single to dent the U.S. Top 100 doing things like it’s 1985.

“It really does get back to the days of Thriller and Bad, when every album had a video and every track was a single,” agrees Rick “Rock” McMurray, Ash’s timekeeper and resident Mohawk sporter.

“We’ve got the luxury of concentrating on America this time,” says McMurray, who will tour extensively through the United States late this summer and fall. “It’s what you need to do. A lot of bands from UK and Ireland don’t realize how much work you have to do in America. It takes more than a six-week tour. In five or six months a year in the U.S., you probably haven’t covered what you cover in the UK for three weeks.”

Finally an Ash single, “Burn, Baby, Burn,” is getting more U.S. radio adds than anything else the band has ever done, with Detroit, New York, Boston and Providence, San Francisco and Los Angeles all falling in line. That strident rocker was named single of the year by the NME, the same publication that lauded 1977 but slagged the group’s sophomore effort, Nu-Clear Sounds, as “ghoulrawk thrashnik deathcore noiseterrior sultans of satanic verse.” C’mon NME, how do you really feel about it?

“We were going through a difficult time after touring for 1977 and again we kind of had a bit of writer’s block after Nu-Clear didn’t do so well. We were kind of burned-out so we took a year off. We did a lot of demos. It was a good vibe, the four of us getting together when we felt like it instead of feeling pressured. That contributed to the positive mood.”

I’m no Nostradamus but my guess is that in this post-boy-group climate, Ash’s lush ballad “Candy,” with its Mary Tyler Moore’s TV theme-sounding chorus, has dollar signs all over it. Says McMurray: “‘Candy’ was one of the most difficult tracks on the album. We demoed it four times. It started off as a simple acoustic ballad. Then we tried to add a few beats to try to take it as far down a hip-hop road as we could. But there was still something missing.”

That something was the familiar orchestral flourish at the beginning of the Walker Brothers’ “Make It Easy On Yourself,” which fortuitously was in the same key as Ash’s song. And it’s got an over-the-top video that has the band playing in gold lamé tuxes; it looks like it cost the gross national product of Bolivia to film. Girls can swoon to crooner Tim dipping a solid-gold tube microphone as if it were an Arthur Murray dance partner. Boys can shriek with delight at seeing Charlotte forgo her one-of-the-boys role to wear eye makeup. Even McMurray’s Mohawk was neatly groomed and waxed for this video shoot. Dang!

Falling for Ash now as the band releases its third album is a bit like discovering a hit TV series coming to its third end-of-season cliffhanger. You bemoan not having heard of it sooner, but you have the luxury of watching the entire story unfurl all at once without the wait. With Free All Angels, the band perfects its intended mix of Tim Wheeler’s three favorite bands: Thin Lizzy, Nirvana and Abba. It’ll be months before America finally catches up with the rest of the world. By then “Walking Barefoot” will be the feel-good hit of next summer and the catchy “Nicole” with its “I killed my baby but I loved her” will rack sniveling O.J. with more guilt and pain on the golf course than losing all his money did. Why aren’t his kids clamoring to freeze and burn him?

Ash will perform at the Area 2 festival with Moby and David Bowie, Aug. 6 at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston. Call 248-645-6666 for tickets.

E-mail Serene Dominic at [email protected]