When faced with growing up, some rock stars choose the Peter Pan route but for the evergreen Tim Wheeler, Ash has always been a vehicle that kept its options open.
Since emerging from Northern Ireland in the wake of grunge and the Gen-X sociopathy of Dookie, the trio/quartet/trio have dealt with the fallout of near bankruptcy, apathetic suits and ever-changing ripples in public taste with a stoic resilience, outliving their peers when the smart money wasn’t on it.
As you might expect from a band who once claimed that their motto was ‘fucked by rock’, Teenage Wildlife is more than just a generic hits, outtakes and filler package. Boasting fifty-four tracks – yes, you read that correctly – this meticulously curated project makes more sense when you remember that they once released a single per fortnight for a year and have so far clocked up eight albums.
The last of those, 2018’s Islands, donates Confessions In The Pool, Annabel and Buzzkill to the megalist, none of which breaks what it’s clearly felt doesn’t need fixing, the latter a youthfully lairy punk thrash which jumps off at any musty killjoys who wanna fun sponge. High-brow? They’ve never pretended it was.
All thirteen UK Top 40 hits are included, and there’s an argument that making the anthems harder to find might put off the casual nostalgia pack, but somehow the effort makes it much more worthwhile when they arrive. Timeless, the ramalama standouts are as mosh-pit friendly as ever, Burn Baby Burn, Girl From Mars, Oh Yeah and especially the wonderful Ramones homage Kung Fu still all more than capable of spilling your drink.
This good time not a long time vibe has of course long been an invitation for critics to dismiss the band’s well drilled songwriting approach as becoming more archaic as time has gone on. It’s easily forgotten however that Shining Light earned them an Ivor Novello award in 2001, an unexpected tenderness which is repeated on Sometimes. And if Wildheart is firmly at the trad end of their pop spectrum then Binary pushes Wheeler’s omnipresent riffing into the background, confounding those happy to write the band off as a one trick pony.
Given how comprehensive the selection is it would be wrong probably for Wheeler & co. not to embrace their influences, so including covers of The Buzzcocks’ Everybody’s Happy Nowadays and The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks – even if recapturing the original’s essence is impossible – are a reminder of their roots, locked deep in three chord theory. True aficionados will also be relieved to see early work such as Jack Names The Planet, Uncle Pat and Petrol also get the nod.
Ash have made being proudly incongruous into an art form which has lasted for a quarter of a century, and their survival instinct runs through Teenage Wildlife like an ugly, national treasure-shaped bruise.
So, who needs growing up? As this monster collection suggests, being cool is not nearly as good for you as never being cool at all.