Ash – ‘A Life Less Ordinary’
A Life Less Ordinary [Soundtrack – 1997]
Also available on:
‘A Life Less Ordinary’ [Single – 1997]
Intergalactic Sonic 7″s [Compilation – 2002]
The summer of 1996 was a coming-of-age summer for me. I was twelve. Just out of primary school and due to start in the big bad world of second-level education – and officially become a teenager – that September. During this time, I was a Scout. A Sea Scout, in fact. And that year, I attended a large camp (or jamboree, if you will) held at Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. (Fact: this remains, as of Dec 2011 – over 15 years later – the one and only time I have ever been to Northern Ireland.)
Over the course of this camp I met a girl from Dundalk, with whom had my first proper kiss. And quite a few further kisses – she was even kind enough to pass on to me a case of strep throat. Soundtracking a lot of this were several singles from the album 1977 – the debut full-length from the Northern Irish band Ash. The songs were ubiquitous: especially ‘Girl From Mars’, ‘Goldfinger’ and, what seemed to become the unofficial theme of the camp, ‘Oh Yeah’.
I don’t know if it’s because of the inevitable associations I’ve made with the time that it was, but the songs have a definite “young” quality. The fact that two-thirds of the band were under 20 at the time probably helped. But they’re all short, simple, unpretentious (not to say young people can’t be pretentious…). Young
In the summer of 2001, Ash singles were ubiquitous once again. Their third album, Free All Angels, was everywhere, thanks mainly to its two popular lead singles: the masterfully melodic piece of genius that is ‘Shining Light’ and the good-but-actually-quite-overrated-especially-when-compared-to-Shining-Light ‘Burn Baby Burn’. And though the band were five years older, the songs still had that young, effervescent, teenage feeling.
In between these periods of omnipresence? Well, in late 1998 they released their second album, Nu-Clear Sounds, which was not as well-received as its predecessor. It was edgier, occasionally darker and lot less “young”. I say this listening to it now. I don’t remember hearing it or its singles – or much about it, really – at the time. I probably did hear ‘Jesus Says’ at some point. And I remember there being some controversy around the video for ‘Numbskull’ (NSFW). It clearly wasn’t controversial enough, however, as the album kind of vanished into obscurity, dragging the band with it.
Before this sophomore slump upturned the boat, Ash managed to release one standalone gem to the world:
A Life Less Ordinary was Danny Boyle’s third film, his first to be made in America. After the one-two punch of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, the film was a seen as a disappointment. I thought it was pretty good, though it certainly had its flaws. Holly Hunter was great in it. I love Holly Hunter… Anyway… the soundtrack album also failed to live up to Trainspotting‘s. If not in quality, then certainly in cultural penetration. Beck’s ‘Deadweight’, however great it was (and however fantastic Michel Gondry’s video for it was), was never going to outdo ‘Born Slippy’. And the soundtrack committed a heinous crime by including the horrible alternate version of R.E.M.’s best song, instead of the original album version, which features much more prominently (and memorably) in the film.
Ash’s title track appears only instrumentally in the film itself, where [spoiler alert] Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz’s characters successfully rob a bank, then afterwards, in the heat of the moment, share their first kiss – complete with a fairly un-Hollywood shiny string of saliva connecting their mouths as they pull away. It’s that kind of messy urgency you get with the whole young, teenage love thing that I seem to be going on and on about.
But that is still its appeal. ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ succeeds for the same reasons ‘Goldfinder’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ do. It might be slightly more developed in terms of songwriting and production – possibly aided by the augmentation of the line-up, with Charlotte Hatherley joining as a second guitarist. But its core is the exact same. It’s that simple, primal yearning – exemplified by the first line of the chorus: “so take me in your arms again.” It isn’t complex, but it doesn’t need to be. Any complexity would lessen its effect.
When the band resurrected itself, storming the charts with Free All Angels and touring extensively in 2001 and 2002, their sets were dominated by the new tracks and the 1977 singles. The Nu-Clear Sounds material didn’t get much of a look in. ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ was a staple though. And, as far as I know, has remained so since.