The British band Ash really wants its fifth album, Meltdown, to be its "American" record. This would fit tidily into the model established by the group's most lauded countrymen. The Beatles, having conquered the chirpy love ditty by 1965, let the folkier sounds and open spaces of the American South catalyze an exit from teen-pop orthodoxy on Rubber Soul. For Ash, Northern Ireland-bred and U.K. favorites since 1977 came out in 1996, the order is a bit reversed; the band is seeking to make its entre into the American market by hardening its British power-pop into American rock aggression. The problem is, while that may convince the lads in Leeds, it rings of contrivance to the very stateside audience it seeks.
What about this record is particularly "American"? Well, not much, but the attempts are manifold. On the second track, "Orpheus," a hit in the U.K. since May, we hear tell of morning sunshine and the thrill of the open road, neither phenomenon being particularly endemic to Britain. On the group's Web site, unshaven band members lean against dusty old Chevys, backed by sprawling vistas. Throughout the album, and in large part due to the employment of System of a Down producer Nick Raskulinecz, the group sounds like it's trying just a bit too hard to be loud and snarling.
Even the ugliest American mask, however, cannot obscure that Ash possesses some genuine songwriting ability. That song about sunshine and open roads tries hard to drown itself out in washes of distortion (and the lyrics would be better off if they were inaudible), but the chorus is persistently catchy. Third track "Evil Eye" marks a moment where the unholy marriage of U.K. power-pop and American modern rock actually works. Lead singer Tim Wheeler does his best Rivers Cuomo, whining a tale of seduction as angst-drenched power chords lend their support.
Unfortunately, too much of Meltdown feels forced: faux-badass production does not an American album make. This fault is at its deepest in "Clones," which we'll be hearing far too much of soon, with its selection as the theme song of new Star Wars video game Republic Commando. Ultimately, I wonder if it wouldn't be best for Ash to stick to songs like "Starcrossed." There is little loveliness in that power ballad, but at least the track cannot be construed as anything but utterly British. It's an earnest melodrama, Travis at its worst or Robbie Williams at his best, and it's easy to imagine thousands of shrieking 14-year-old Liverpudlian lasses destroying the football pitch at Anfield in a massive swaying sing-along. But the band could avoid that sad fate by letting its solid songwriting speak for itself next time.
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