B-Side Turbulence

Greetings! I’m honored to have you back as my guest in this snug underground room known as my “B-side Basement.” After much delay, the time has finally come for us to mentally trek to the forbidden galaxy of Nu-Clear Sounds b-sides. Brace yourself, for this will be a voyage for only the most valiant Ash fans as we traverse through this emotional mixing bowl. Ready? …Great! The odyssey begins…

NU-CLEAR SOUNDS ERA (1998-1999). This era is generally known as one of rough times for Ash. Ash developed a darker and more emotional sound for many songs produced during this era. This style reflected the multitude of problems band members were facing in their own lives such as the overuse of drugs and alcohol, financial despair, and relationship troubles. Not only that, but Ash were also struggling to find continuing success in the music industry. Nu-Clear sounds did not receive nearly the amount of praise and prosperity as 1977. Additionally, Charlotte Hatherley joined Ash at the beginning of this era. Later on, this would prove to be positive for Ash, for she provided new musical insight for the band and additional guitars which slightly changed their overall sound. Some of these changes are exhibited on various b-sides, of which there are an odd 13.

The first b-side of the Nu-Clear sounds era was What Deaner Was Talking About, a cover of a semi-popular Ween song which appeared on Ash’s pre-Nu-Clear Sounds soundtrack single, A Life Less Ordinary. Prior to this release, the song was actually performed at the 1997 Live At The Wireless radio session in Australia and officially released thereafter on Live At The Wireless, an album which quenched Ash fans’ thirst for more between the 1977 and Nu-Clear sounds eras. However, that version was much heavier and rawer. The A Life Less Ordinary b-side release is softer and more melodic. “If I was king, I'd wear a ring and never hurt my people. I'd stay alert and dress to kill. I might even slip you something.” The lyrics of the song are quite random, though according to speculation of many Ween fans online the song may be about experiencing the after-effects of drug use the next morning. Though, the best fan interpretation I could find was “We are nothing, in the end we're all washed out. If we had a chance to be king, we'd make something of this place.” Interesting. Overall, this is a pretty average Ash cover and I’ve always enjoyed the Live At The Wireless version better. Still, it’s an interesting start to the mix of b-sides yet to come.

Where Is Our Love Going? That’s the questioning title of the 2nd b-side of the Nu-Clear sounds era, also appearing on the A Life Less Ordinary single. This song has always been a personal favorite of mine, for it’s a dark and grungy 1977 era style song about the uncertainty of the future of love. Is the love growing stronger or shrinking weaker? – A question I often ask myself during my various encounters in life. Despite which direction it’s going, love is always changing for sure. One thing I appreciate about this Ash love song (besides the killer tune of course) is that it’s not so sappy like many of Ash’s other love songs. Instead, it’s straight to the point. “Future is a sea of light. Future is a mass of shade. Dreams that you soon forget. Dreams where the TV made. There's a star in the night sky. Brings you closer to my side. Looking up without knowing. Where is our love going?” In my opinion this song should have been on the album. It’s definitely one of my top 5 Ash b-sides. Fortunately enough, the song can commonly be heard on Cosmic Debris, Ash’s “best of” b-sides compilation.

The 3rd b-side on A Life Less Ordinary was a re-recording of an old unreleased Ash song from 1993 called (Happy) Halloween. This song was also included on Cosmic Debris. Halloween is a very positive, smooth, and melodic rock song which tells an interesting short story about Tim’s experience moving in with a friend and going back home to visit with family for a few days. During his travels to and from home, he has some interesting conversations with girls. Up to this point of the song, Tim seems somewhat falsely happy, nodding and smiling to everyone. On Halloween, Tim decides to end the family visit and go away to a Halloween party where he is warmly embraced by friends. At this point I think Tim realizes he truly is happy, appreciates his friends, and that life is actually alright. “My friend came to the door took my bags from my hand and welcomed me in from the night. As I was walking through the happy house that Halloween night, my friends were all there, my heart was glad, and my life felt actually alright.” Personally, this song makes me cherish the friendships I have made in life and I can sympathize with Tim’s experiences throughout. This feel-good song interestingly enough had not been played live since 1993 until Halloween 2007 in Leeds. Not only was this rare gem played live in its entirety, but I received a personal dedication from the song which could not have come at a better time in my life, due to feeling quite upset about something stupid at the time. However, it was not the dedication itself that affected my mood the most, it was the action that proliferated from the dedication – it was when extremely valuable friends of mine in the UK, friends I sometimes make the mistake of not always thinking about, made the decision to call me and let me listen to the song live over my cell phone. This action instantly altered my mood from depressed to very happy. This made me realize I am very fortunate to have such amazing friends there for me and that I should try not to let stupid things ever get me down. Oddly enough, the meaning of the song and my experience through the dedication go hand and hand. As Tim being with friends in the song made him realize life was alright, being reminded of my “bad-ass” friends in the UK through the dedication and performance of the song made me realize life is alright. Not to get too sappy, but this song will always hold a special place in my heart and is a song I can always listen to when needing cheering up.

Jesus Says, the 2nd Nu-Clear Sounds single, featured 4 emotional b-sides which took 4 completely different directions. Radiation, the first of these b-sides (disc 1), is an extremely harsh and aggressive punk song which seems to convey Tim’s frustration at the time. “Radiation’s gonna kill you, gonna kill you, yeah! You're sick, you're no-one. You're nothing, yeah! Bring them on, one by one, shoot you into the burning sun!” The song also features one of the most bloodcurdling screams in any Ash song by Tim. This is the perfect song to listen to not when you’re simply mad, but when you’re pissed the fuck off! It’ll sympathize with your rage. One word to describe this song – MENTAL. It’s obvious why it was a b-side, but because of its power is not an Ash track to be forgotten.

The next b-side on Jesus Says (disc 1), Dancing On The Moon is humorously a complete turnaround from Radiation. When listening to the songs back to back, it can be hard to believe that Radiation and Dancing On The Moon are done by the same band. This is an upbeat song written by Mark about being happy and in love with an amazing girl. “Hey, look at me dancing on the moon. I've got a girl so sweet. She got me back in tune, yeah. Now I'm floating, floating about in love.” The song features a piano and a tap dancing part. Also similar to Mark’s b-side from the 1977 era, I Need Somebody, the song is very different than most Ash material and has somewhat of a dramatic/theatrical feel. While creative and a definite improvement over I Need Somebody, Dancing On The Moon is probably my least favorite Nu-Clear sounds b-side.

The third b-side from Jesus Says (disc 2) is a song called Taken Out which is the first of three written and sung completely by Charlotte Hatherley (backing guitar, backing vocals) rather than Tim Wheeler (lead guitar, lead vocals). The song has a grungy rock sound, similar to many other Ash songs from the 90’s. However, the major difference of course, is the female lead vocals which could make the listener scratch their head for a second and wonder if it really is Ash. I believe Ash allowing Charlotte to release a couple of her songs under the “Ash” name was the band’s way of warmly welcoming her and showing their appreciation for her input to the band. Funny story though – this was the first Charlotte-sung song and one of the first b-sides I had ever heard by Ash back when I first discovered their “best of” b-sides via Cosmic Debris. Upon not knowing nearly as much about the band at the time, I thought the vocals were Tim experimenting with a different way of singing. I felt like an idiot later on when I discovered it was not Tim singing and could then clearly tell the difference. Because the instrumentation overpowers the vocals in most parts of the song, one really can listen to it, imagine Tim singing, and actually believe it is him in some parts of the song. Try it. Taken Out seems to be about wanting back the love which has been “taken out” of a relationship. “I'm here again lying next to you where no feelings remain. They're gone and I want them back.” The song is a rightful and decent b-side in my opinion.

Ash take an emotionally dark direction both lyrically and instrumentally with their fourth and final Jesus Says b-side (disc 2), Heroin, Vodka, White Noise. This song contains some powerful lyrics and is one of Ash’s best slow songs in my opinion. “Lose everything and find yourself. There's more to you than you will ever show. There's more to this than I will ever dream of. The secret of love and the secret of death – both one and the same. Both seal my fate.” The song seems to be about the use of drugs/alcohol allowing for the realization that there is much more to oneself, love, life, and death, than there usually appears to be. And, no matter how great it all may seem at times, it will inevitably end in death – white noise. Yes, it is depressing, but it’s so true when you really contemplate it. People often don’t realize what they have or who they really are, what they could have or who they could be, and what they will have and who they will become. I often fall asleep to this lengthy song at night meditating about my life.

Our adventure continues with four more b-sides taken from the second Nu-Clear Sounds single, Wildsurf (disc 1). The first of these four b-sides is a melodic gem of a rock song written entirely by drummer Rick McMurray called Stormy Waters. This song takes a direction back to Ash’s 1977 sound and is apparently still a favorite of Rick’s and a song which he was proud of writing if I’m not mistaken. The song reminds me a lot of Ash’s number 1 single, Goldfinger, for it has a quite parallel sound. “She takes me under stormy waters, cradles my head as sleep comes on. I'll drown in her eyes, dream in daylight, and wake again in her twilight.” Is the song about lust or love? Or both? It’s hard to tell because the word “love” is not mentioned once in the lyrics. Apparently it was written for Rick’s girlfriend at the time. Either way, the lyrics show intense emotional perplexity similar to the turbulence of stormy ocean waters. In my opinion, this song could have not only been on Nu-Clear Sounds, but also charted reasonably as a single. Perhaps it was left off the album because it sounds like it was meant for 1977 instead and has a sound too similar to Goldfinger.

When I’m Tired is the second b-side on the Wildsurf single (disc 1). Simply put, it is a grungy and upbeat song about a relationship falling apart. The relationship has become fake because the love has wasted away. “I see it in your eyes. I can read your mind. You know as well as I that it's over. We're living a lie. We're paying the price. We have crashed and we're burning.” Perhaps this song is not as strong as many of the Nu-Clear Sounds album tracks, but it’s still a great song with a definite Nu-Clear Sounds era feel. It takes its rightful place as a b-side.

The third b-side from the Wildsurf single (disc 2) is a cover of an unreleased Backwater song sharing the same title as the Ash song called Lose Control. This is the only instance I’ve ever encountered of a band releasing two different songs with the exact same title. Ash really had no limitations with this one. Not only that, but this is one of the most psychotic songs Ash have ever released. Often referred to by the band and fans as “Lose Control 2” to distinguish between the two Ash songs, this sinister and grungy song consists of overly-simple lyrics and the entire chorus roared at the top of Tim’s lungs. “Lose Control!!! Lose your soul!!! Kill your goal!!! Yeah.” This menacing song was surprisingly played live at certain shows during the Nu-Clear sounds tour and is one of bassist Mark Hamilton’s favorite songs to perform live, possibly because of the heavily distorted bass part. It’s definitely a song to listen to when you’re angry, which is pretty much the only time I listen to it. It is extremely different from 1977’s melodic Lose Control and is pretty weak instrumentally and lyrically. It’s not one of Ash’s best works in my opinion.

The final b-side from Wildsurf (disc 2) is Charlotte’s second Ash song entitled Gonna Do It Soon. Of the three Charlotte-sung songs, this one is my favorite. This short song is grungy, sexually aggressive, and fits right in with the other Nu-Clear Sounds era type songs. “Whispers in my ear, I've got nothing to fear. Such a dirty thing to do, you know I'm gonna do it soon. I felt that way for you. And then I'm gonna give me to you. I'm gonna do it soon.” The lyrics seem to foreshadow sexual acts. Gonna Do It Soon has the same tune as a song called Hubris from a band called Nightnurse, which Charlotte was in prior to joining Ash. Charlotte took this tune and added new lyrics to it, transforming it into Gonna Do It Soon.

Ash’s last two b-sides appear on the Numbskull EP and are covers of songs by two of the most popular 90’s grunge artists, Nirvana and Mudhoney. The first of these is an awesome cover of Nirvana’s Blew. The first thing I ever experienced with Ash’s cover of this song was the extreme amplification of the bass part, especially in the intro. The first time I ever played this song, I had my speakers turned up pretty loud and the bass turned all the way up not knowing the shocking surprise was in store for once I’d hit “play.” Upon hitting play, the bass part nearly blew my sub and shook the walls and floor of my apartment resulting in neighbors banging on the ceiling below. I loved it. It was as if a jet plane flew over the apartment building. Nirvana’s Blew, a song I grew up with, definitely does not have the same effect. Furthermore, Tim does an excellent job singing the song. “If you wouldn't mind I would like to Blew. If you wouldn't mind I would like to lose. If you wouldn't care I would like to leave. If you wouldn't mind I would like to leave.” According to Nirvana fansites, this song has no real meaning. My interpretation of it is that it’s about doing whatever you want and not caring about the outcome. The song reflects this with the random lyrics which show that Kurt Cobain can write a song and not care about it meaning anything or how it’s interpreted. Being a Nirvana fan, this is one of my favorite Ash covers.

The final Nu-Clear Sounds b-side, and second cover from the Numbskull EP, is Who You Drivin’ Now? This Mudhoney cover is also one of my favorite Ash covers. It has an interesting rhythm and aggressive lyrics. This song is so energetic that it can increase your energy level just by listening to it. “Wrap him around your finger. All the boys follow you. But you don't have to see her. You're drivin' that t-bird. But the gauge is on empty. Don't get in, don't look back. You got no fuel left.” The lyrics seem to use a car as a metaphor for oneself. The first part of the song talks about driving around recklessly in an old Pinto, a metaphor for an unstable relationship situation. Then, in the second part of the song the singer drives the nice T-Bird, showing he has moved past the unstable situation and now rides around carefree. This is one of my favorite b-sides from the Nu-Clear sounds era and a song I often listen to when I need an extra kick in the ass.

And with that, the blustering voyage through the galaxy of Nu-Clear Sounds b-sides comes to an end. Hopefully you made it back in one piece! I look forward to your next visit to my basement when we will embark on our longest mental excursion to the Free All Angels b-side galaxy. Until then, stay sane, watch your step on the way out, and have a great year!

Brian a.k.a. FireSka