I look back on the early to mid-90s with an incredible fondness. It is probably to do with the fact I left school in 1992, went to college, got a job in 1994, passed my driving test in 96 and the football team I love had some moderate success in the period.
But there was more. We had a Labour Government in 1997, and the music of the time is some of my absolute favourites to this day. The Quireboys, The Almighty, The Little Angels, 3CR, Honeycrack, Backyard Babies.
Then in 1996 along came something pretty cool. “1977” by three kids from Northern Ireland, who were about our age. They wrote about the same things we thought about. Blimey, there wasn’t a kid of 21 years old in the spring of 1996 who didn’t think “Oh Yeah” was about them and whatever girl didn’t fancy them that week (my one would have been Sara, then. There is no happy ending and that is her real name).
The thing is, that that’s a lifetime ago (and Sara wouldn’t even remember me, lets be real) and that’s where “Teenage Wildlife” comes in.
The sub-title: 25 Years Of Ash, is daunting enough, because those kids that were documenting our lives then have grown up too, but when they say “25 years of” they actually mean something else:
54 songs and over three and a half hours of Ash to wade through. Curated by the band, this is a bit haphazard in truth.
It kind of makes sense to do it this way, though, since this is about the fifth compilation they’ve put out, and also it does a hell of a job of showing their whole career. “A Life Less Ordinary” which starts things off is a sugar rush – if this was a sweet it’s a sherbet dip – right the way through to “Tinseltown” at the end, which is more “mature” if you like, but still sounds like Ash, prove that whether as a three piece or a quartet, they have plenty to commend them and a fair degree of originality.
However, what it does is prove what most of us have always known. Ash were and are a band capable of great moments, great singles, but in all brutal honesty, there’s a lot of filler here.
There are some – many – moments of brilliance. “Kung Fu”, “Girl From Mars”, “Burn Baby Burn” “Shining Light” (I saw this track described as “rather ordinary” in a review elsewhere this week, it’s not, its phenomenal and always was, and yes, I still own the singles) are all up there with anything anyone did in that period.
The problem is – if that Is the right word – the best ones are the ones you knew were the best ones. Right from “Uncle Pat” and “Jack Names The Planets” – which have stood up incredibly well over the time – to 2018’s gloriously daft, potty mouthed “Buzzkill” which races about like a two year old on a Sunny Delight bender, proves they have a gift. And they always will. Of writing anthemic pop a bit like their countrymen The Undertones did (it doesn’t go unnoticed that they cover “Teenage Kicks” here, either.
But if you want to wade through three and a half hours of Ash – as I have done a couple of times this week, are you going to find anything in the deep cuts that you can’t live without. Nope, not really. “Return Of White Rabbit” has a reggae touch, sure, and “Heroin, Vodka, White Noise” is as understated and introspective as they ever get, but that – to me anyway – is never what they were and are about.
Last summer I went to a Festival and watched Ash absolutely kill it for 45 minutes in the sun, on the second stage. Packed to bursting in the field they owned it. Look at the setlist that day. That’s Ash. That’s where they excel.
In the spirit of honesty, I text my brother about third song in that afternoon and said this: “I’m at Splendour Festival watching Ash. I’d forgotten how good they were!” His reply, unwittingly, sums up the problem with “Teenage Wildlife”: “I’d forgotten all about them,” he said.
Is this mammoth thing going to win people like him over? Nope. Do they have some brilliant songs? Yep. Are they all here? Good god, yes. Trouble is so are about 37 others. Less a “best of” than an “everything of”. It’s up to you if you fancy wading through.