The underground British rock trio Love and Rockets got a jolt in 1989 when the grinding single “I’m Alive” hit No. 3 on the American pop charts. Surprised by sudden success, the band members faced pressures that pushed them apart. They went on hiatus, and then they seemed to go kaput.
The group has still not formally disbanded, but it is sure in the independent-project phase. Now, after L&R guitarist David J. released a disappointing 1990 album, comes Ash’s solo debut, which is fueled by the same ingenious style that won fame for their erstwhile band.
Ash writes melodic pop songs and presents them with such variety that he seems to have multiple personalities. His voice shifts from a gravelly, early-morning drone to a high-pitched whisper. Sometimes he mixes rock with an element of vaudeville, electronically distorting his voice to sound as if he’s singing through an old radio.
Ash labored two years on his new songs, arranging them with precision, paring away the accompaniment so that every note has a purpose. At times he gets along singing above only a simple bass line, with light percussion by his Love and Rockets mate Kevin Haskins. The absence of lead guitar on some tunes, for instance, builds tension that breaks when the guitar finally enters with a few bars of planned mayhem.
Ash’s musical talents also are apparent on a smattering of cover tunes. He and sweet-voiced harmonizer Natacha Atlas deliver a sexy and spacey rendition of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”
Only in one respect arc Ash’s solo efforts inferior to those of his group. His own songs, mostly written after he separated from his wife last winter, stick a little too close to the well-worn topic of failed love. He could benefit from some of the rich language of his band mate David J. Otherwise Ash does fine on his own. (RCA)