It seems being a singles-only band wasn’t working any more, so after 8 years of one-off tracks, Northern Ireland’s Ash is back with their sixth studio album, Kablammo! After 23 years together, Tim Wheeler (vocals, guitar, keyboard;) Mark Hamilton (bass;) and Rick McMurray (drums) are still putting out decent music. In case you’re not familiar with Ash’s long history, they have the funniest honest biography I’ve ever seen on a band’s site. Ash is charming, and I mustn’t be the only one who thinks so as Kablammo! was crowd funded on Pledge Music. The result is a (mostly) good offering of some radio-friendly pop and pop-punk, mixed into an album with an ill-fitting title and artwork.
For an album titled Kablammo! (a title complete with exclamation mark, my greatest pet peeve,) one expects a power-pop explosion. Add to it that the cover art looks like it belongs on a Sum 41 album, listeners are likely preparing themselves for things to get a little crazy. The opening track and first single, “Cocoon,” delivers. That pop-punk energy continues on with “Let’s Ride” and picks back up on later songs like “Go! Win! Fight!” but there are many songs that have no explosion to them at all. There’s a lot of comparison to Weezer, Keane, and even the Killers – not really explosive, firework-like acts.
Disregard the title and cover art, it will all make more sense that way. “Free” and “Moondust” are soft, slower-building songs – pretty and well-written with strings used to add some drama. The album starts strong with the pop-punk, stays good with the slower builds and power pop, then it just gets not-so-good at the end. There’s “Bring Back the Summer,” the closing track that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. It starts off with a decidedly ‘80s sound that came straight from a Casio keyboard beat or the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.” Add to it that the lyrics cover wanting a summer love back, it sounds like it’s been done before. The song before it, “For Eternity,” is a generic love song about being lost before finding this other person, the only one you’ll need – you guessed it – for eternity. They sound like canned love songs, one for pining and one for first dances at weddings.
It’s not all bad, there is a lot of good on this album. There’s a lot of radio-friendly pop with some big guitar solos, like on the Weezer-esque “Let’s Ride.” There’s also a lot of surf sound right from the beginning with the backing vocals and guitar on “Cocoon.” “Evel Knievel” is this epic surfy, westerny instrumental track with strings that build, making it sound like you might be awaiting a giant motorcycle jump and just cuts off into silence like everyone just sharply inhaled when the jump happened. Well-written lyrics are found throughout the album. “Free,” about consciously uncoupling from an unhealthy relationship has some great drowning imagery with “in the undertow we drag each other down, if we don’t let go we’re gonna drown.” It’s a pretty song that builds with strings, but stays grounded with Wheeler’s simply-delivered vocals. Water imagery comes up on “Dispatch” as well, which is the darkest song on the album sound-wise with big percussion and lower guitars though it’s about staying in a relationship.
This is a good album, not a great album. It’s ear-friendly and pleasant, it’s got high energy and decent lyrics. Like many other long-running bands, they’re a softer, gentler version of their old self, but they seem to still have a sincerity that some *cough* Weezer *cough* are missing. There’s a reason Ash, and their crowdfunding fanbase, is still around: they can still make a good album.