o Ash’s fourth and latest album, Meltdown, finally gets released here in the US, almost nine months after it was first released in the UK. Not that it really matters, of course—if Ash didn’t break in the states with “Girl From Mars” back in ’96, or with “Burn Baby Burn” a half-decade later, the two most radio-friendly singles they (or just about anyone else) will ever release, they most likely never will. They’ve had their chances, and for whatever reasons (the majority of which will likely be eternally inexplicable), they were unable to capitalize on them.
Far more disheartening, however, is their recent slip in the UK. After silencing all the naysayers with the against-all-odds success of the triumphant, glorious Free All Angels and its accompanying trove of singles (as well as the release of the phenomenal singles compilation Intergalactic Sonic 7”s), it looked like Ash had actually managed to reverse the bad fortune of their 1998 flop Nu-Clear Sounds. However, Meltdown has made little impact in the UK thus far, with none of the singles managing to crack the top ten, and one (“Renegade Cavalcade”) marking their lowest-charting single in almost a decade.
So does Meltdown merit the band’s dip in popularity? Yes and no. Much has been made of this being the band’s “metal record,” and though the record’s title and cover art certainly support this claim, the music does not quite as much. It has more of a metal slant than their last record, certainly, but the band integrates the metal influence similarly to how Weezer did on Maladroit, enough to give the album a bit of personality and distinctiveness without totally overpowering the band’s signature sound. And though some tracks (“Clones,” “Detonator”) rock harder than anything in the band’s catalogue, they always return to the band’s sweet, boy-girl harmony-laced guitar pop by the chorus. Even calling Meltdown pop-metal would be something of a stretch—the band is still as harmless as ever.
Not that that’s a bad thing, of course—the band’s harmlessness has always been part of their charm—but the charm isn’t totally enough to carry the band through Meltdown. The band sounds breezy and catchy as ever, with songs like “Meltdown,” “Orpheus,” and especially “Star-Crossed” making highly worthy album tracks. But there aren’t any classics here, no pop-punk gems to compete with the likes of “Girl from Mars,” “Kung Fu,” “A Life Less Ordinary” or “Burn Baby Burn,” and no swooning lighter-wavers to stand up next to “Sometimes,” “Oh Yeah” or “There’s a Star”. And especially when they now have a collection of timeless singles like Intergalactic Sonic 7”s for contrast, it’s a problem.
Ultimately, Meltdown isn’t as dramatic a failure as its title seems to be begging me to pronounce it--in fact it isn’t really a failure at all. It’s just a crucial dip in momentum, just when the boys most needed to prove themselves of being able to go the distance, outliving the ex-britpoppers and pop-punkers alike, and if they don’t regain that momentum soon, US release issues will be the least of the band’s problems. Ash were able to rise from the dead once before. Can they do it again?