Breaking and Entering

By Sarah Gordon

Despite their relative domestic anonymity, Ash really is somebody

If you caught Ash's punchy single, “Burn Baby Burn,” while it was in light rotation on two local stations for exactly 48 hours, you possibly went straight out and bought a copy of their new album, Free All Angels.

Perhaps it intrigued you that there were two identical shiny discs, one a novel “bonus DVD.” It confused you that under the “Videos” link were four mega-budget efforts showing a band that pouted and grinned expertly at the camera, especially the retro-hip girl guitarist and the boyishly seductive lead singer.

And then there was the “Documentary” showing Ash, who you thought you discovered, ripping up Japan and intoxicating arena-sized crowds. The marketing magic succeeded, prompting an epiphany: “Golly, these guys must be somebody.” You reflexively reached for your wireless to tell a friend.

Despite their relative domestic anonymity, Ash really is somebody. Last year, Free All Angels was the summer record in Britain, reaching No. 1 on the charts, its songs flypapered to the heads of a whole nation.

And Ash isn't just successful; they're nearly revered. The normally vitriolic British music press hasn't as much ruffled a hair on their adorable Northern Irish heads. At festivals, even the less musically inclined boozers awake from their mud puddle berths in time to watch Ash.

What's so special about this band? Superficially, they're just four kids rehashing the good ideas of Big Star, the Undertones and Weezer. But even if it comes in a familiar package, a great tune is a great tune, and Ash obviously knows this.

Ash's past two releases, 1977 and Nu-Clear Sounds, both contain songs you need to hear, but the albums were uneven. Free All Angels has only three duds, and even those aren't that duddy. From the anthemic “Shining Light” to the heartbreakingly danceable break-up story “Sometimes,” perfect song after perfect song stands in queue.

The question (as it always is when a great overseas band tries their luck here) is, ‘Will America care?'

Singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler doesn't sugarcoat his expectations:

“We want Free All Angels to go at least platinum here. There is no reason why we couldn't repeat our UK success-it just takes longer. We seem to have picked up quite a few fans, by people seeing us play with Coldplay and Dashboard Confessional. I think the Saves the Day tour will only add to our existing fan base.”

Ash is a much better band than their tour mates, with the arguable exception of Coldplay. It's a shame Free All Angels isn't picking up momentum here until the fall, but endlessly summering San Diegans should relate to its beachy romance.

“All of the songs are written from personal experience. I love the summertime, just kicking back with a girl you're in love with,” Wheeler opines. “This record is all about positivity in a relationship. And lots of that feeling you get when you first get it on with someone new. You know that aching in the stomach area.”

The album's U.S. release was delayed more than 18 months while Ash, having parted with DreamWorks, looked for a new label (they found BMG subsidiary Kinetic Records). But the band is still enthusiastic about the aging songs.

“Strange, but these songs never seem to get boring for us to play live. I guess we just get off on the energy of the crowd at our gigs. It's like a whole new challenge over here-and we love touring, ” says Wheeler.

They intend to keep it up, with their own headlining tour planned for early next year. But catch them now while they're still young and waifish.

Wheeler explains, “We all love America. The only complaint is that the truck stops we eat at on the road serve everything with cheese! We are rapidly gaining weight.”