If one believes that 1964/1965 (give or a take a few years) marked the end of the baby boom and the beginning of Generation X, then it is safe to say that quite a few Gen-X-ers have entered middle age. And one of those Gen-X-ers who is at least 40 is Richard Ings, a London-based actor and singer/songwriter. Ings played folk-rock in the past and is a former member of the bands RDS and Bridge (who put out an EP titled The Red Tape in 1995). But these days, Ings’ musical focus is a project he calls A Sea with 3 Stars. And For Nothing, which is A Sea with 3 Stars’ first album, is partly an expression of middle-age anxiety. Ings, who produced this 45-minute CD with his associate Adem Hilmi, didn’t write all of the songs after turning 40; according to his publicity bio, he wrote them over a ten-year period. But it is safe to say that he does treat the album as an expression of middle-age anxiety and disillusionment. In fact, the CD’s cover depicts Ings dressed as a pathologist and dissecting a bleeding birthday cake.
The material on For Nothing, most of which Ings wrote by himself or co-wrote with associate John Bocelli, does not shout or scream to get one’s attention. Ings favors adult alternative pop-rock that, musically, is subtle and understated; the lyrics tend to be on the dry side, and tracks like “All That She Wants” and “Stalling for Time” don’t beat listeners over the head in order to get their points across. But they get them across nonetheless, and the viewpoint that Ings expresses is clearly a world-weary one. “On Our Way,” “The Girl Who Was Just Out of Reach,” “Getting Better” and “Hit Me Harder” come across as both world-weary and cynical. One could describe For Nothing as a document of someone developing a cynical perspective during his youth and having that cynicism validated with the arrival of middle age.
Various musicians help Ings out on For Nothing, including Paolo Minervini on bass, Dan Warren on drums, Hilmi on acoustic piano, Sam Taylor on sax and Alfie Darlow on violin. But For Nothing is not the work of an actual working band but rather, is essentially a solo project for Ings. This album, which was recorded in 2010 and 2011, is very much Ings’ baby and clearly reflects his own thoughts, ideas and opinions.
Although Ings is British, one of the best tunes on For Nothing is a song about an intersection in San Francisco’s famous Mission District: “24th & Mission.” The song paints an intriguing picture of that area, and the edgy characters it describes are not unlike something one would find in a Velvet Underground or Jane’s Addiction song.
The London resident also brings an appreciation of Americana to this CD on his interesting cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” which Ings successfully takes in a different direction. While The Boss’ original 1975 version rocked passionately, Ings approaches the song in a much more subtle fashion. His vocals are relaxed, he uses acoustic guitar, and he approaches “Born to Run” with quiet reflection rather than youthful bravado. It isn’t what one expects from a cover of the Springsteen classic, but it works. In fact, it works well.
No one will accuse For Nothing of being the most cheerful or optimistic album in the world, but it’s certainly an honest album. Someone who has made the transition from being a young cynic to a middle-aged cynic will relate to the perspective that Ings brings to the table; on this album, life’s disappointments validate a jaded outlook. Cynicism and all, For Nothing is a likable document of a musician’s journey from youth to middle age.
Review by Alex Henderson
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)