Charlotte Hatherley - Grey Will Fade
Ash are no Pixies but you can liken Charlotte Hatherley taking a break to record Grey Will Fade to Kim Deal forming The Breeders. When Deal, Tanya Donnelly and Jo Wiggs recorded Pod with Steve Albini, it was more of a Pixies album than that same year's Bossanova and with Hatherley's release of this album, it's a better set of punk-pop songs than Ash have managed since 1977 and certainly it's better than this year's Meltdown.
Where Tim Wheeler has spent his every recording since then in search of a new sound, either in the studio or at home in Downpatrick, as well as an increasingly desperate but largely futile attempt to be upfront rock stars, Hatherley has recorded a cracking summer pop album for fans of fizzing guitar and sunshine lyrics that, with one song alone, Kim Wilde, makes it the equal of Kung Fu, Ash's best song to date.
Enough has been said about Kim Wilde in this review of the free download of it but, to summarise, it is such a great song that's got so much to say and in such a short time to say it that Hatherley almost falls over herself as he rushes to get it all out. It's like the intensity of first love when there's too much going on to properly express and even its best moment is in its final seconds when all Hatherley can say is, "Yeah!" as though lost in love. You can download it for free and it's one of the best songs you'll hear this year so, really, why wait any longer.
But the quality of songs on Grey Will Fade doesn't end with the opening track as Paragon takes the closing harmonies of Kim Wilde and stretches them out to a full song whilst Summer is all blissful pop, sweet melodies, handclaps and thick guitars. In spite of the opening line of, "Summer is coming / And I hope I feel better by the time it does", it'll leave you happier than getting drunk in the afternoon and - right choice - is the upcoming single.
After that brash summer opening, there's a run of three songs that break up the good mood - Down is a beaten-up, maudlin tune that tries too hard to calm Grey Will Fade but Where I'm Calling From and Stop are wonderful, one a gentle ballad that ought to follow Summer as the next single whilst the other is a rough, tumbling rock song closer to Pere Ubu than the pop/rock of the rest of the album. Elsewhere, Rescue Plan and Why You Wanna? are alright and Bastardo is a bitterly funny story about Antonio, who stole Hatherley's heart but, come the morning, left nothing but the memories, some cash on the pillow and a space where her guitar used to be..."the two-faced lothario" or, in the final verse, a bastardo.
Finally and despite it being the only song that gets its lyrics printed in the CD booklet - so looking that bit more special - Grey Will Fade, the final song on the album, is the most complete track but lacks the sparkle of Kim Wilde, the pop of Summer, the rock of Stop and the girl/punk of Bastardo. But, for that, it's almost the perfect way to complete a surprisingly good album and one that's better than you'd credit Ash's second guitarist capable of.