You know how sometimes you really want to love a record? I feel like that with Ash Johnson‘s debut solo album. I’ve tried, I really have. And I know the songs are well crafted; I can tell that a lot of time and effort went into it and that it’s a very thoughtful album. There’s just something stopping it from truly ‘speaking’ to me. Don’t get me wrong, I do ‘quite like’ the album, but I can’t help feeling that it’s just a bit too Harvey Nichols, when I’d have preferred it to be a little more Argos. Does that even make sense? On a more positive note, particularly from a commercial point of view, Radio 2 will love it…
The reason I wanted so much to love it is largely down to the themes of The Mad Ship, many of which I can relate to, especially ‘Rumour Mill‘, about which the sleeve notes explain: “Social media can sometimes be a constant reminder of the once joyful people or activities that we were involved with in the past. Life moves on, but the more things change the more they actually stay the same.” I can equate this, rightly or wrongly, with my own experiences leading up to the 2016 EU referendum, when old friends I’d once loved dearly and previously made treasured memories with started sharing hopelessly misguided memes, that were at best slightly inflammatory and at worst downright racist, resulting in a much needed dramatic reduction in my personal contacts. Since then, I, like a lot of people, have become more and more despondent about the state of the so-called “human” race and watched as the world just continues to implode in a seething fireball of hatred and mistrust. Over and over again, ad infinitum.
There are at least a few tracks that poke their head above the parapet enough for me to properly embrace them; ‘The Ghost‘, a song about all forms of love and “an ode to starting again“, is a delightfully urgent, rockier number that lies somewhere between Buffalo Tom, Ragged Glory-era Neil Young, and Uncut (the band, not the magazine). As a result, it is a major highlight.
The title track, too, is a standout, helped enormously by Chloe Rodgers’ wistful, perhaps even ruefully reflective vocal, which injects proceedings with a real pathos and elevates it to a thing of searing beauty.
I just wish the rest of it didn’t remind me of Bryan Adams ballads. Once you get that in your head, you can’t unhear it. In fact, forget I said that; I don’t want to ruin it for you. In fact, I want you to love it. Do you think you can do that for me? Please? I’ll feel less guilty if you do.
The Mad Ship is out now on Stunted Records.