Ash – Islands (Liberator Music/Infectious Music/BMG)

Since their precocious full length debut album 1977, Ash have always offered something a bit different. They were a middle-fingered anecdote to fey Britpop. Then they poo-pooed the album format and released a single every 2-weeks for a year. Now they’ve reneged on that idea and written a breakup album on a series of Islands around the world. Each of the 12 songs written within a strict 10-hour time limit and tasked to replace any of Ash’s greatest hits in their live set.

Opener True Story has all the Ash hallmarks. Chugga-chugga bass and guitars. Tim Wheeler’s distinctive (is he flat or isn’t he?) vocal front and centre, and a clichéd lyrical hook that you’ll inexplicably just start singing in the shower years after you last heard it – curse you Shining Light.

Current single Annabel does a pretty much identical job, but album teaser Buzzkill shows the sparkle’s still there with its delicious punk-pop harmonies – “once more, you fucked it all up”.

3 songs in and Islands becomes something different. More spacious, less immediate. Moving away from anger and denial into acceptance and even hope. The chugga-chugga is replaced with a striped-back sound of bluesy lament at the beginning of Did Your Love Burn Out? Confessions In the Pool is more Sparks than any other of the band’s more obvious influences, with sparkly, arpeggiated keys propping up the slightly wincing lyrics “You’ve got belief in me / you’ve got the remedy”.

The title of It’s a Trap reveals the cheeky little glint in Ash’s eye, back to a galaxy far, far away that’s been a consistent in their output, but doesn’t lift the track out of the clod-rock mire that the album seems to have fallen back into. So closer Incoming Waves stands out by its epicness. The wall of building, beautiful, wailing guitars and keyboard pads delivering a mixed message of wallowing and hope – “all I’ve got is time / to think about the moment it went wrong”.

A more delicate, interesting album than some of the rock fodder might suggest, but Girl From Mars doesn’t have to worry about its place in the encore.

Islands is due out on May 18