Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Ash released songs before they graduated high school. They chose their name from the first word found in a dictionary they opened. This trio issued a strong debut with 1994’s Trailer EP. 1977, their first full-length album released two years later, celebrates pop-punk swirled into catchy grunge. Sure, part of that post-Nirvana era, but also part of that same band’s influences. Two-thirds of Ash was born in 1977, a date that stands out in pop culture, and one which left its impact on youngsters across Britain and the band’s native Northern Ireland. Ash’s boisterous blend of volume and melody created one of Britpop’s less heralded but most tuneful contributions. Their take on punk resembles more Green Day than the Sex Pistols. Their version of indie rock hearkens to Dinosaur Jr. more than Hūsker Dū. As for their grunge technique, Ash applies lessons from Nirvana’s loud-soft shifts in unpredictable, dramatic and catchy dynamics. However, the results on 1977 remain vivid. Growing up in the shadow of that titular punk year, the band incorporates Star Wars themes, too. A screaming TIE fighter opens the disc with an unhinged “Lose Control.” An homage to the film soundtrack closes the final cut, allusively named “Darkside Lightside.” Throughout, punk’s exuberance and junk culture references create 12 bouncing tunes. In the studio six months after leaving school, Ash was introduced to drugs by producer Owen Morris. The headlong rush of the album may be credited in part to this lysergic energy. Fast pop dominates on first listen. But, repeated airings reveal craft in softer songs, cinematic in scope, sentimental in lyric. Well-sequenced, 1977 ebbs as well as surges. “Goldfinger” sweeps its audience into a richly orchestrated landscape, calming the mood after the burst of the first song’s explosions in the sky. “Girl from Mars” compliments their EP’s “Jack Names the Planets” as pleasant, astronomically inspired pop. Here, singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler directs his likeable, yearning voice into a radio-friendly, wistful narrative. Yet, Morris’ busy production can overwhelm Wheeler’s sometimes boyish, strained vocals. The middle songs suffer from this shuffling about of dense instrumentation and fragile, heartfelt singing. Ash, throughout its career, prefers this blur of emotional songcraft and blaring delivery. Live, the trio may overcome sonic limits, but in studio, the three battle their own din. When that din diminishes, Wheeler’s talent for midtempo anthems increases. “Girl from Mars” and “Lost in You” recall alternative hits of the previous decade, full of summer’s lilt and love’s promise. “Oh Yeah” soars to a grand chorus in the style of Ash’s fellow ensemble from the Irish North, the Undertones. “Angel Interceptor” channels Billy Idol’s slickness into Wheeler’s crooning “ooh-ahh.” Best of all, if not the album’s standout cut, “Kung Fu” captures what the Ramones might have sounded like if they penned a giddy, manic Japanese tune to grace a martial-arts film’s soundtrack. Rick McMurray’s drums rattle along in affectionate homage to frenetic flicks starring a name-checked Jackie Chan. Bassist Mark Hamilton’s “Innocent Smile” sails by in the same insistent propulsion as the successor to the Undertones, That Petrol Emotion. Likewise, “Let It Flow” stands neatly next to the gentler moments on another strong album by a trio from this region and time, Troublegum by Therapy?. The rest of the dozen tracks on 1977 sidle into conventional punk-pop by the standards of the Seattle-spawned Sub Pop era, but none of them fall flat. Ash enjoyed success after this solid album, ranked by NME as one of the top 500 LPs ever. 1977 was reissued along with their earlier singles, and a live album of their early-career highlights, in a 1998 triple CD set. Ash stays on tour, even if their album output has slowed. They boast a rarity, too, for this trio remains the same as when they began as teenagers in 1992.