Ash Free All Angels

After surviving what was known as "Britpop," Northern Ireland's Ash are ready to give people a good dose of loud and crunchy guitar pop. Unfortunately, their last album sunk like a stone here, but the band's singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Wheeler feels that the lack of success has set up their latest record, Free All Angels. "I think Nu-clear Sounds [their 1999 album for Dreamworks] failing commercially was quite good for us because it gave us time to rejuvenate and gave us a drive, because we really had to compete again," admits Wheeler. With this rejuvenation, Ash has made their strongest record to date. Following more in the footsteps of their 1996 breakthrough 1977, the band saw all five singles released from Free All Angels make the Top 20 in the UK last year. Wheeler remains modest about the "pop songwriting genius" label he's been given by the British press, saying, "I just write lots of melodies that are always kind of hooky. It's something that comes quite naturally." Truth is, Free All Angels could have ten successful singles if it wanted. Everything from the masterpiece that is "Shining Light," for which he won the Ivor Novello Award, to the hyperactive "Burn Baby Burn," to the tale of love gone wrong, "Nicole," the album consistently sounds like a countdown radio show. However, the album's most irresistible moment is the orchestrated masterpiece "Candy." During the recording of the song, the band felt it needed something special, so they looked for samples. According to Wheeler, "We decided that we needed a string part on the choruses and we were recording in this mansion in Spain, but we didn't have much music on us. We put on the Walker Brothers and the first song was 'Make It Easy On Yourself.' I didn't think we could get away with it but it was almost the exact same time and pitch, and it just fit in, which was kind of spooky." Free All Angels has a bit of everything: punk, pop, romance and attitude. As an added bonus, a DVD is also included, containing videos, live performances and a documentary on the band, making it even more essential. (Kinetic)