ASH: MELTDOWN (2005)
1) Meltdown; 2) Orpheus; 3) Evil Eye; 4) Clones; 5) Star-Crossed; 6) Out Of The Blue; 7) Renegade Cavalcade; 8) Detonator; 9) On A Wave; 10) Won't Be Saved; 11) Vampire Love; 12*) Shockwave; 13*) Solace; 14*) Cool It Down.
Wrong move. Some stupid jerk must have complained that Free All Angels was way too «happy» and «sissy» to match the honor of the proud sons of Ireland, and incidentally shamed Wheeler into returning to the tough standards of Nu-Clear Sounds. The title alone says it all: after «nuclear sounds», comes the «meltdown». An exaggeration, for sure, but it does feel like the sickening radiation effects of the 1998 album are back. Be sure to check your hairs after listening, or, better still, wrap yourself in aluminium foil before listening.
Something like nine out of eleven tracks on here are moderately fast heavy rockers, most of them in such idioms as «pop-punk», «electro-funk», «slam-dunk», and «stinky-skunk». Their emotional pattern is formally «aggressive», but with a heavy mix of sarcasm: as the title track breaks in with "revolution, we're the solution, we're gonna take it to the overload", Wheeler's sneer makes it clear that the aggression is as much directed at the simplistic system-bashers as it is at the system itself. That's fine by me — intelligence and sarcasm are always welcome in pop music.
What is not fine is that the music has once again dissolved in a sea of well-coordinated, but deadly boring noise. Guitar parts on ʽMeltdownʼ grumble, but never crunch, or form a distinctive, individual riff. Repeat same phrase nine times, substituting other track names, and you get an overall portrait of the album. The vocal parts are slightly better, but still lazy — "I think my head is gonna explode, I think my head is gonna overload" is a tense, but all too familiar angsty trick, and it lacks gusto.
If the mood occasionally lightens up, it is still not enough to pierce through the lazy haze. ʽOrpheusʼ, for instance, goes from a gruff metallic verse to a «sunnier» power-pop chorus, but it's a generic alt-rock chorus all the same — no particular inspiration detected. ʽStarcrossedʼ is a particular shameful affair: the album's only slow-paced ballad, sternly deprived of Wheeler's soft folksy hooks and turned into a bland «power» show-off.
I wish I could concentrate more effectively on some of these rockers and sort out the «hookless» and the «weakly-hooked» ones, but it would just waste everybody's time, so let's just go straight to the bottomline: Meltdown sacrifices diversity and melodicity for a «kick-ass» approach, and the results can be predicted accurately, because Tim Wheeler is about as good at kicking ass as Meat Loaf is at singing opera. As in «it can be done, but why?...». Thumbs down.
P.S. Acquaintance with alternate reviews shows that ʽClonesʼ is regularly being extolled as a particularly vengeful, raucous highlight, if not even one of the best songs in the Ash repertoire. I beg to differ. Flat lyrics like "Shame, that everyone's the same / I thought you stood alone / We're different from the clones" are primitively bad on their own, but it hurts twice as bad when they are set to a pedestrian funk metal melody, further weakened by a muffled, overcompressed guitar tone. (Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers could have given the song more liveliness). Take a hint, people: if you want to write a song about loss of individuality, either drown your lyrical content in Dylanisms or at least bother writing a melody which only a ruthless troll could put down as a boring copy-paste affair.
Check "Meltdown" (MP3) on Amazon