Ace: Five-A-Side (Anchor)
MAYBE IT’S because England is such a small country. Tight knit, incestuous even, it seems almost as if no single musical style can emerge there without reverberating back and hitting every musician on the isle. The walls are so close.
For instance, right now, halfway into the third decade of rock ‘n’ roll, it sounds as if the whole of contemporary British rock ‘n’ roll boils down to 2 distinct (but growing closer every day) reference points; the Bowie-Mott post-glam slam stuff and the smooth and easy post-pub rock as exemplified by Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe, the Sutherland Bros. and now Ace.
Five competent enough lads, Ace are far from the worst of the lot. But it’s just hard to compute the distance between worst and best in a style wherein every band sounds like every other band. Pert little melodies, nice springy instrumental backing, a bit of husky vocal shading pinched from Stevie Winwood and you’ve got it. It’s not love but it’s not bad; the least or most you can say about this music is that it’s comfortable.
As the latest band to emerge in the style, Ace is at least kind enough to throw a few new wrinkles in with the deal. Thus, while ‘Sniffin’ About’ and ‘Why’ and ‘24 Hours’ sound virtually indistinguishable from companion pieces off any Brinsley-Ducks-Bees Make Honey album, cuts like ‘Time Ain’t Long’ and ‘How Long’ at least point toward new directions; toward Marshall Tucker and Eagles airspace, respectively.
Maybe the phenomenon of these inoffensive soundalikes is England’s answer to the legion of low profile, near-faceless bands currently grabbing a good portion of the pie on these shores; all the Doobies and Montroses running on the steam of skill and stock licks and indebted to producers for endowing them with the personality they never could have fashioned for themselves.
For all its comfortability and competence, Ace’s music lacks the immediate impact the best rock and roll is expected to make. It makes up for the deficiency by being as seductive as hell (‘How Long,’ ‘Sniffin’ About’), like Traffic or Dave Mason, on prolonged exposure. It just may be a matter of time; how many listeners will have enough of it to keep Ace around for a second or third go at the prize?
© Gene Sculatti, Creem, June 1975