Ace: Five-A-Side

WHILE IT’S TEMPTING at first listening to lump Ace’s first album with the Average White Band’s AWB and then to make broad statements about the advent of British soul music (as some reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic have already done), Ace is not an r&b band.

Rather, the group is a rock & roll band of the pub-rock variety, and like its brethren on that circuit, it incorporates black pop – as part of a general focus on American dance music – into its own amorphously British style. The difference – on record at least – between Ace and other bands bred on the pub-rock circuit is that this group isn’t the least bit uncomfortable working in a sophisticated pop context. That’s fortunate, because Ace has – in the person of keyboard man and vocalist Paul Carrack – a highly skilled pop songwriter in its midst.

Carrack specializes in medium-tempo songs with plenty of r&b touches in the lyrics and arrangements. The six tunes he wrote without collaboration for this album (he co-wrote three more) are distinguished by a credibly soulful tone – due in part to Carrack’s strained, earthy singing and roadhouse organ playing – and an avoidance of r&b cliches. Of these, ‘Satellite’ is particularly clever; ‘Why’ churns with shrewdly shifting dynamics; and ‘Know How It Feels’ is charged with a hauntingly somber intensity. But Carrack’s best song, and the album’s showcase, is ‘How Long’, already a medium-sized British hit and now a snowballing grass-roots favorite in the States. With its bittersweet, indelibly memorable chorus, twilight funk and over-all concision, ‘How Long’ is a masterful single, easily the most fully developed and listenable single I’ve heard this year. The simple line that makes up the chorus – “How long has this been going on?” – resonates with a melancholy fervor that seems to double each time it’s sung. A classic, and worth having the album for.

Happily, just about everything else is high-grade stuff, too. There are even touches of L.A. harmony-rock in the first and last tracks, ‘Sniffin’ About’ and ‘So Sorry Baby’ respectively, and they’re all the more effective because of their placement in this city-funk, bar-band context. Not all the writing is topnotch: the last-mentioned track has the terribly hackneyed line, “I’m going down to the country, got to get away,” in the chorus, and you won’t find any literal profundity anywhere on the lyric sheet. Except for ‘How Long’, there’s no actual musical brilliance, either. But Carrack is a real find. And Ace is a lively, economical, extremely likeable young band. A noteworthy first effort, and one of the most playable records of ’75.

© Bud ScoppaPhonograph Record, April 1975

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