Ash : Oxford Zodiac

Hard, durable...

As compliments go, 'durable' isn't especially sexy, so how about this: Ash have spent a decade consistently saying 'I love you' to a world that doesn't hear it enough, and if you don't like them then you've probably let go of more of your inner child than you can really afford to be without. But as tonight proves, you can be a kid inside and still have massive biceps.

Anyway, it's traditional for Ash, to plough round an inefficient but vital tour of the nation's toilets to preview their new songs to, like, proper fans, in wait of the proper big tour and the proper greatest hits set. And yet it's testament to this band's unique position that they can ram a hulking eleven new songs into a set that still spurts molten pop classics out of its hit sac at the slightest arousal. Everything's here: 'A Life Less Ordinary', 'Goldfinger', 'Shining Light', 'Envy', 'Burn Baby, Burn', 'Petrol'… and to kick things off, 'Girl From Mars'. Still the feelgoodest hit of any summer ever, still bounding through meadows on hoverboards ten years after the fact. If this is the arrival of the heavy metal Ash, then it's a damn colourful curveball.

For all the fire in Tim's eyes - gleefully absorbing the sweat on the walls - girls and thrills are still definitely on the menu. For all its big rock magnitude, next single 'Orpheus' will sound fabulous on ecstasy. Ash have always been louder live than their albums convey, and here, the songs that sound grimy and industrial on 'Meltdown' are given space to scratch at heaven's floorboards. 'Starcross'd', a lighter-ballad and "song of tragedy" that on 'Meltdown' sounds like an unnecessary throwback to their tenderer beginnings, here waves a big sign around that flAshes 'this way for the big American radio hit' in neon writing.

And then there's 'Clones', the download single that's famously the heaviest thing they've done. May we also point out that it's the best, a future-rock dreadnought as adventurous as 'Stockholm Syndrome', live it fires off tsunamis like Trent Reznor, but it's all bound in with a popskill that could only have come from the pen of Wheeler.

And yet it's actually no surprise whatsoever that Ash should return so mightily. Like Muse, they're one of a rare breed of British bands that get consistently better every single time they come back. What is strange is that it should be now that they finally, properly gel so well as a band. Charlotte is now such a vital organ - in both style and sonics - that it's impossible to imagine that she was ever a bolt-on rhythm guitarist. The new material's plutonium impact elevates Rick into the Grohl league of drumming (with a beard to prove it). And Mark - well Mark was always the coolest one anyway.

Other good things about Ash: Tim is so out of thrall to tosserish hipness that he thinks nothing of dedicating newie 'Renegade Cavalcade' to Rick Witter (not present) who they once supported somewhere. He considers the crowd's feelings by introducing every single new song. Their new album has a song on it called 'Vampire Love'. They play 'Burn Baby Burn' last, as they should. They play 'Petrol' simply because they can.

It's these, and millions of other things, that make Tim's occasional lapses out of tune seem charming, and the fact that their albums have only ever been 70% amazing seem human rather than flawed. It's in Ash's DNA that they'll always be a band of the people. It's just that this time, those people are proper hard bastards. Hard, durable. Their meanings are really very similar.

Dan Martin

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