Snow In Nara sets the pace as the opening track – a relaxed and laid-back instrumental that’s miles away from Ash’s previous material. The tone is reflective and wistful, a tone that’s only amplified by the following End Of An Era: built around some beautiful piano chords, this shows a new side of Wheeler that may surprise those used to the guitar heroics of the past. There’s also some inspired use of strings throughout the album, giving already emotional songs such as Hospital and Vigil an added poignancy.
Strings come to the fore too on the ambitious centrepiece of the record, Medicine. Somehow never managing to overstay its welcome, despite the fact it’s a full 10 minutes long and is an understandably bleak mediation on the finality of death, Medicine shows just what a great songwriter Wheeler has matured into. It takes some doing to be this unashamedly personal without being accused of slipping into self-indulgence, but he does it nicely here.
Lost Domain could be described as a concept album in the true meaning of the word. Every song tackles illness and death (with the exception of the two instrumentals), and the record is sequenced in such a way that it can be divided into three parts: the initial shock of the diagnosis, which leads into hospital visits and death, and eventually the final coming to terms with mortality and a focus on celebrating the departed person’s life.
It’s Wheeler’s focus on this celebration of life that gives Lost Domain its added edge – the heartbreaking Vigil is, as you’d expect, upsetting and sad, given that it describes George’s final moments in his hospital bed while surrounded by his family, but Wheeler turns it into a comforting eulogy for his father, with the refrain of “you are not alone” sounding particularly touching. The gorgeous Hold and First Sign Of Spring see Wheeler tackling the notion that ‘life goes on’ to beautiful effect, while the slightly Divine Comedy-esque instrumental Vapour makes for a nice break after all the heartbreak.
Lost Domain acts as both a lovely tribute to Wheeler’s father, and further confirmation of his talent as a songwriter. He’s come a long way from songs about Jackie Chan and the Girl From Mars, and this is a painful, poignant, but ultimately life-affirming eulogy.
With the help of Andy Burrows, Neon Indian and the London Metropolitan Orchestra, he constructs pop heartbreakers dissecting their last moments together and the grief-stricken aftermath (‘Hospital’, ‘Vigil’, ‘Hold’) capped with his trademark chest-burster choruses. It can be a harrowing listen, but Wheeler sugars the anguish with slabs of OMD synthpop on the title track and 10-minute centrepiece ‘Medicine’.