By Charlotte Hatherley
Ash albums were always a right old mess - tracks were either totally poptastic gems or just plain shit. There was no 'in the middle' and a full album listen regularly left you confused, aurally raped and disappointed that there was a great band inside that just weren't consistent enough to bother the top of your CD rack.
There is of course one exception to this rule - their 2003 album 'Meltdown' which was wholly awful to a degree that it was a hopeless failure of a comeback. The loud songs became louder, the ballads became mushier and Ash became locked in the dreaded 'transitional period' - you know, a football manager's excuse for their team being rubbish.
This brings me onto Charlotte Hatherley, Ash's ex guitarist. Since Meltdown's disaster she has released a critically acclaimed and rather quite nice (albeit hardly chart bothering) album of her own, 'Grey Will Fade.' The time was right to jump ship and jump ship she did, thus rendering Ash's future existence totally pointless.
So what are our three Irish chancers missing? Aesthetically, lots. Musically not much, considering I doubt that she had much influence over Wheeler's rocktastic riffage anyway. Her latest single, 'I Want You To Know' is a sterling effort; at first it seems to stumble to its two-and-a-half-minute close, but on second listen actually sounds rather charming, if a little 'girly' (Women blasting former lover etc). Taking on Coxon's punk-esque guitars, it ends up a compact little pop-punk tune that Green Day would probably be happy to have in their pockets. It's not as good as the one about that Spanish bloke she took home who nicked her guitar though. And the enforced American accent grates after a while.
The B-sides are much more diverse affairs. 'Sister Universe' is a weird three part tune that should be much more interesting than what it actually is - a strange vocal effect that results in Charlotte sounding like the bastard love child of Lil Bow Wow and The Chipmunks makes the first third a cringe - worthy affair. However, the song soon takes a positive turn following a scuzz out that sounds similar to a Radiator era Super Furries. It ends with a strange little ditty that sounds like... umm... a Rings Around The World era Super Furries. Nice, but not much more.
Track three is described as the "gently beautiful 'Susprisa'" which is bang on, really. Drawing inspiration from criminally under-rated Liverpool stargazers The Open, 'Susprisa' is a melancholic near six minute acoustic based song. The production is excellent, with a range of extraordinary background arrangements making sure the song doesn't outstay its welcome. It is also here that Charlotte's voice is at its most effective, with quieter and gentler tones placing greater emphasis on her lyrics, that before were perhaps a tad too frivolous.
This single suggests that maybe Ash could have done with a greater input from Charlotte - it's a little gem, something that Ash haven't made for a good few years now. Yes, I realise that my constant mention of the Irish trio is rather tenuous and predictable, but now we all know that Hatherley wasn't just a pretty face to sell records.
Both are releasing albums in the near future. My money is on Charlotte.