Off Key With Eric D: Ash has a ‘meltdown’

Eric D'Orazio

In the midst of promoting “1977,” Ash’s 1996 sophomore success, frontman Tim Wheeler noted “the thing is, you’re supposed to hit a peak at about 24 and lose the plot at 28, and we’re only 19.” Since then, the band recruited an additional guitarist at 20, released an underappreciated follow-up at 21, hit their peak with a redefined sound at 24, and put out a greatest-hits package at the ripe old age of 25. Now, with 3 out of the 4 members meeting their 27th birthdays, the question presents itself: what can Ash do before they “lose the plot”?

Truth be told, they have 2 options. First, they could disregard the situation and slowly, but surely, become their namesake, or second, they could accept their fate and go out in a blaze of glory. Though both seem to be viable solutions to their timely demise, it is all but apparent that they’ve chosen the latter by means of a new album.

Aptly titled “Meltdown,” this 11-track fireball exhibits Ash at their finest, from out-of-this-world rock-outs to charged choruses, and even to the occasional distressed love ballad. But don’t be fooled by the album’s supposedly stereotypical nature, for it’s certainly the hardest hitting record the band has ever done, not to mention the very definition of a rock masterpiece.

Should one require proof as to the masterful aspects of “Meltdown,” they need look no further than “Orpheus,” the album’s second song and second single. Opening with one of Ash’s tried-and-true guitar build-ups, the song explodes into a full-on rock-out, with flailing drums, thundering bass, and guitars so overdriven that nu-metal bands everywhere had best run and hide. In the words of bassist Mark Hamilton, it’s like “Chili Peppers meet The Doors, Sabbath, and, well, us.”

As for the lyrical content, the song chronicles the breaking-off of a summer romance, the lethargy that occurs after that falling-out, and the need to head out for the open road, all the while realizing “a new day, it is dawning” and “I am moving on.” When it’s all over, “Orpheus” comes across as the feel good hit of the summer of ’04.

While most bands are busy saving their best music for the end of their albums, Ash takes “Meltdown” in a very different direction. Lying right smack in the middle of the record is its finest tune, “Out of the Blue.” Delving into that stellar feeling of sheer joy upon meeting someone new and wonderful, the song asserts a love that has “come from out of nowhere” and leaves one feeling unreal. Overall, leadman Wheeler sums it up through the chorus, “out of the blue, into the slipstream.”

But the fun doesn’t just stop there. Not only does the song have the sharpest vocal hook since 2001’s “Burn Baby Burn,” but a blaring guitar solo that’s straight out of the ’80’s metal scene. In all fairness, if “Orpheus” is the feel good hit of the summer, then “Out of the Blue” is the feel good hit of the year. Needless to say, it’s one hot piece of Ash.

In an album packed chock full of fiery riffs and sharp vocal hooks, one would at least hope for a moment of solace and serenity by means of a nice love ballad. Well, when it comes to “Meltdown,” such a serene scene is non-existent. However, the album does have the love ballad part covered through “Starcrossed,” its latest single.

Unlike Ash’s amorous adventures of years past, the song exudes a slightly darker demeanor, choosing to focus on two lovers who are kept apart by unseen forces, and hence remain “star-crossed and can’t escape.”

Though seemingly based on “Romeo & Juliet,” the track procures one of those great classic rock moments where beautiful lyrics coincide with outstanding musicianship and everything is perfect. Ending with the line, “you know that I’d die for you,” “Starcrossed” is certainly a love song by which all others may be measured.

When all is said and done, it is safe to say that “Meltdown” is, by far, the quintessential album of 2004. The fact of the matter is that no other release this year comes close to the lyrical and musical perfection that Ash has to offer with their latest effort. Without a doubt, they have conceived a rock masterpiece that crowns their already impressive catalogue and leaves the competition roasted, toasted, and burned to a crisp. Simply put, it’s so fiery that it had to be called “Meltdown,” not to mention so hot that it makes Lindsay Lohan look, well, less hot.

In all honesty, who cares if they lose the plot next year? For the moment, Ash is on fire, and in the words of the album’s last song, “it’s not the end.”