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Five-A-Side (an Ace album)

Anchor 2001
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #11
Weeks Charted: 22

Paul CarrackFrom the look of its album cover, Ace is a band of five frustrated English football players who, like Rod Stewart, turned to music to compensate for their athletic shortcomings. This quintet with semipro backgrounds proves to be master of the catchy melody and the natty hook. It has a benevolent addiction to lean instrumentation, seemingly well aware that virtuoso excursions would be both unnecessary and unsatisfactory.

In its trenchant songwriting and engaging harmony singing, Ace emulates a number of American bands with similar virtues. "Rock & Roll Runaway" mimics the anguished singing of the Band, while "How Long" revives the Philadelphia dynamics of Hall and Oates's "She's Gone." Eventually, Ace may attain the unity of vision possessed by other bands against whom it may be measured, like Steely Dan and the Eagles. Meanwhile, this is an encouraging debut with many pleasant but minor songs, and at least two, "Time Ain't Long" and "How Long" with immediate hit potential.

- Wayne Robins, Rolling Stone, 5/8/75.

Bonus Reviews!

Reading the back of the album cover and seeing that one of the primary musical influences on Ace was the Beatles, I smiled. Reading further and seeing that another primary influence was Motown, I grew apprehensive. But after hearing the record I am much taken with Ace. They are indeed a band that has successfully merged the basics of Beatles melodic and harmonic realizations with the rhythm constructions and vocal phrasings of mid-Sixties Motown music. But they do it gently, with skill and care. Ace reminds me -- and this is about the highest compliment I can pay a rock group -- of Motherlode, the superb Canadian quartet whose career was short but who most successfully fused rock, soul, and jazz.

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Ace's restraint, discipline, and sureness of purpose are admirable and very welcome in these days of bands that just make noise and try to sound busy This is Ace's first album; I will look forward to their next while enjoying this one.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 6/75.

The single, "How Long," is welcomed by some desperate souls as a breakthrough for England's pub-rock movement. Bet if John David Souther lived in England he'd play pubs too. Super catchy, but even more banal than than term used as a superlative ordinarily implies, sung and played with a mildness infuriating in musicians of such skill but totally appropriate to lyricists of such underweening triviality. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Five-A-Side, Ace's debut album, is notable for introducing the world to the soulful singing talent of Paul Carrack, especially on the hit "How Long," which went to #1 on some charts in 1975. The band has a low-key style, frequently dominated by Carrack's piano and organ work, that is sometimes suggestive of Traffic and of the Tulsa country-rock sound of J.J. Cale, Delaney & Bonnie, and Leon Russell, although they never work up quite as much of a sweat as the last two. Already road-weary when they made this album, Ace, especially in Carrack's lyrics, comments extensively on the travails of being in a struggling rock & roll band. Even "How Long," which sounds like the lament of a lover betrayed, is really about somebody quitting the group. All of which makes the irony of the song's being their sole hit all the more acute. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The original Ace albums -- the best being Five-A-Side from 1975 -- are worth searching for for a taste not only of Paul Carrack's early days but also of the roots from which he and a good chunk of what became known as New Wave sprang from. * * *

- Eric Deggans, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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