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Angelic upstarts – “Free All Angels” album review

Published: April, 2001
Source: Q Magazine

The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling” and Grandaddy’s “Summer Here Kids” all suggest that summertime is wasted on teenagers. The best songs about the season of long evenings and innocent romance are always written by those who have seen a fair few - preferably in dysfunctional style. Ash singer/ guitarist/chief songwriter Tim Wheeler has a thing about summer, girls and, indeed, girls in summer. The 23-year-old wrote these devotional songs over 18 months at his parents’ house while recovering from burnout. Mostly bypassing the faux-attitude and forced beats of Ash’s second album, 1998’s Nu-Clear Sounds, this revisits the sweetly tainted themes of their full-length debut, 1977.

However, nowadays Wheeler is old enough to look back convincingly on a lost past with longing. Bitter experience makes these tales of walking hand-in-hand in the sand all the sweeter. Witness the exemplary ice lolly punk-pop of the opening trio “Walking Barefoot”, “Shining Light” and “Burn Baby Burn”. But it’s the following orchestrated ballads that suggest Wheeler as a potential Brian Wilson of the indie disco. The oddly lurching “Candy” combines bruised Burt Bacharach strings with Dr Dre-style plinking, while the curiously camp yearning of “Someday” would do Judy Garland proud. But it’s the plaintive middle-distance gaze of “Sometimes” (“Sometimes it happens feelings die/ Four years are lost in the blink of an eye”) that should set insides quivering. Clearly, when it comes to writing songs, it really is better to have loved and lost.

With Wheeler in ascendant form, its a shame then that some naff joint compositions bring standards tumbling: “Shark” strains gratingly towards Nirvana, while “Submission” even revives the beat-rock of EMF. Nevertheless, most of Free All Angels sees Ash assuredly hitting their lovey-dovey guitar-pop peak. If these were less testing times for indie-rock, student residency corridors would resonate to its sounds until, ooh, at least the summer after next.