“Feelings that I can’t describe/And never will be reconciled/Oh, something inside has died,” sighs Ash’s Tim Wheeler at the conclusion of “Burn Baby Burn.” He’s summing up every lousy emotion as an affair recklessly reaches a mutually ruinous conclusion. It’s a rush of painfully true generalities and cruel details: verbal attacks, sleepless nights, blank stares, bitter tastes. For extra poignancy, he sets his lovers’ melodrama in “this teenage twilight,” those years when you’re just beginning to discover your adult self, too young to realize that you’re already retracing patterns that’ll probably follow you to your grave, but old enough to feel the futility. “Destructive love is all I have,” he despairs. “Destructive love is all I am.”
The music is pure sugar punk shot through a glam-tastic Britpop production helmed by Oasis helper Owen Morris. The precise chaos of snare drum rhythms that announces the sudden silence slashing midway through every chorus is breathtaking, yet familiar. Clearly this Irish quartet spent their formative years practicing taxidermic experiments on old Buzzcocks singles. This fast car races away at 156 beats per minute, faster than most dance music—but the gravity of the tune is at half that tempo, roughly the same speed as most weepy ballads.
It’s this outburst/reflection duality that ignites “Burn Baby Burn,” the NME single of last year. Roughly half the CD from which it came, Free All Angels (it finally got an American release this summer on the dance label Kinetic), is alt-guitar generica. Yet the album’s many overseas hits, freshly compiled (along with singles dating back to 1995) on the import-only Intergalactic Sonic 7″s collection, navigate the DMZ between the Hives and Creeds, where sincerity isn’t stupid, and power doesn’t overwhelm or dumb down or parody the pop. Boyish charisma strapped to a Flying V, Wheeler is the pinup punk who pogoed high enough to touch poetry.