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David Ford

Songs for the Road

(Original Signal; US: 1 Apr 2008; UK: 15 Oct 2007; Internet release date: 12 Feb 2008)

Ah, life…doesn’t it suck

Maybe it’s just because my life has been such a mess these days, but David Ford’s latest album serves as a perfect complement for my freakin’ cheery mood. Ford’s depression ain’t the self-wallowing kind. He’s the kind of bloke who makes fun of misery and discovers humor and catharsis in the blackness.


Take a lyric like, “Nothing broke / Your fall / And so you fell”, words that open a song. Its irony and pathos elbow their way clear as the song paints the portrait of one doomed to be lonely. The gentle, off-beat lilt of the melody suggests the singer commiserates with the fallen lover, and perhaps has had a pint or two in sympathy. Ah, life… doesn’t it suck.


Ford begins his new disc with a cut bluntly entitled, “Go to Hell”. Ford’s not trying to ingratiate himself with the listener as much as declare himself at war with the world. But what should one expect of someone who includes a solo acoustic bonus track at the disc’s end (on UK versions of the record) of the Smiths’ “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out” (with its immortal line, “If a ten-ton truck / Kills the both of us / To die by your side / The pleasure and privilege is mine”).


The pleasures of Ford’s dark vision can be found in the literate quality of his lyrics, the gruff strength of his voice, and the unusual way he combines his tunes with his words so that they often seem in battle. Sometimes his writing comes off as wrought poetry, “I don’t like to use words like forever / But I will love you till the end of today / And in the morning when I remember everything that you are / I know I’ll fall for you over again”.  Other times he can just toss off a line that seems to capture a mood perfectly, “So you can keep your belief in whatever / And I’ll wear my cynicism like a tattoo”. In both cases, the listener has to attend to what is said to get the full meaning. It’s not that he’s deep, but that Ford is complex and uses specifics to make his points. He doesn’t sing in sound bytes. He’s aware of the knotty nature of thoughts and feelings.


Ford conveys this notion that life isn’t simple through his vocal style. He rarely hits high notes, and seems to breathe as he vocalizes. The Englishman sings sentences that turn into paragraphs. He offers monologues and discourses more than conversation.


Perhaps that’s why his musical backing takes off on different paths than his voice. Often the music seems to be more rhythmic and interested in keeping the beat than furthering the tune. Some songs, like the grandiloquent “Requiem”, don’t have choruses. The rage in this tune can be found more in the way the harmonica wails than in Ford’s hammering nails approach to singing. But the vocals bite as the Englishman cries, “Let us be kissed on the cheek / Let us be fucked from behind” as he talks about a world where we sell out our kids for oil, destroy the environment for cash, dance at the disco and say there is no one to blame.


This may not be a happy record, but there’s charm in finding out one is not the only person who looks at the world and wonders why it sucks. There’s joy in learning that while many people may disappoint you, some won’t, and may even delight you. Isn’t that enough, really.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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David Ford - Go to Hell
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