Pumpkin Records PUM038, 2011, CD album, 1hr 1m 41s
Brace yourself. Ed Ache plays punk songs of such finely honed, cutting sarcasm that he’ll make your brain bleed; often very funny, always witty, usually politically targeted, his songs have catchy melodies that drive home their meanings and convince you of their truth as they get you singing along. They are performed in kinetic, driving style, often at the speed of old school hardcore, and they basically make you want to leap around and get sweaty and smash into things. All of which is enough to make this record well worth listening to as it is, but Mr. Ache’s secret weapon is that it’s entirely acoustic.
There’s a limited amount I can usefully say about this music: I’ve told you in general what style it’s in, and, in basic terms, what I think is good about it; beyond that, I don’t need to describe it song by song, because I’d need to labour for hours to answer questions that will be answered in a few seconds of listening (and you really should listen to this). As Ed puts it himself, ‘Everyone’s A Critic’. In fact, that’s a song that’s worth quoting at some length:
‘some music’s great/ some’s fucking rubbish/ the stuff you hate/ I fucking love it/ that’s the great/ beauty of it/ there’s things you like I think are shite/ there’s no wrong so we’re both right/ so you play me a song/ I play you a song/ we could argue which is better or we could just sing along’
The meanings in these songs reclaim a sense of righteous anger for political belief, a sense that tends to be monopolised by religion: in fact he even repurposes the spiritual ‘Go Down Moses’, and re-radicalises a song born in the grip of the worst racial repression in modern Western history. He doesn’t need to change the lyrics: when he sings ‘let my people go’ we know what he means. This is an ideological manoeuvre more usually performed in stunt dub, a genre Ed has a thing or two to say about in ‘White Reggae’. That’s a song that’s less sarcastic than ‘The Most Sarcastic Song In The World’, but only just.
If I’ve given the impression that these songs are simply presented by thrashing away flat out on an acoustic guitar as though surrounded by an absent band, they’re not. They are arranged with a good deal of imagination and sensitivity, and Ed displays a lyrical melancholy when he wants to; some of the songs are pretty gentle, although there’s always strength just below the surface. Most of this stuff is guitar, although he does use a ukulele on some tracks, such as ‘Service Stations’; he takes advantage of the recording process to layer up some vocals and additional instrumental parts, not in such a way as to make solo renditions of the songs inadequate, but adding just enough to compensate for the lack of the considerable, jaw-dropping impact of seeing him live.
Having been introduced to this redoubtable performer in a live context, I can vouch for the total commitment he brings to the stage. It’s impossible to commit that same intensity to a recording, but Ed Ache does as good a job as anyone could. There are thirty songs on Work For Tesco Or Die, which works out at an average of two minutes each, but lets be clear: there’s as much content crammed into each of them as most people can cram into six minutes. Longer pieces like ‘Spooky Woods’ and ‘The Manager And The Security Guard’ are epic masterpieces, leaving the listener replete and exhausted like condensed concept albums.
Ed is a very talented man. He has a personal, well developed language, as a player and a composer, and his writing encompasses pretty much the whole of human experience. He rarely generalises, preferring to let us draw our own inferences from his socially located specificities. The album as a whole reminds me of the ambitious satirical novels of the nineteenth century, with their huge scope, political engagement and cast of characters. Tom Wolfe tried to revive the form for the late twentieth century, with questionable success, but with Work For Tesco Or Die Ed Ache does a very good job of presenting an appropriately fragmentary, early twenty-first century equivalent.