Modern day technology is both boon and bane for the contemporary rock music scene. Lower recording costs and easier access to marketing and distribution channels has allowed numerous artists and bands to expose their music to the world on a scale previously unimaginable.
However, the inevitable downside to this is that ‘quality control’ becomes a moot point. Without a overbearing record label representative to obsess over issues like marketability or sometimes even an astute and sympathetic producer, the sad and hard fact is that more and more of the music released – especially in the last five years – should never have gone beyond the artist’s’ bedroom. It then behooves music reviewers to act as a critical filter to separate wheat from chaff and hopefully to provide a discouragement to ‘amateur’ musicians from releasing sub-par material in an unacceptable form.
Which brings us to A Sea With 3 Stars and its debut album For Nothing. A Sea With 3 Stars is the musical pseudonym for London-based, fortysomething English actor and failed folk-rock star Richard Ings. According to his official biography, the album “brings together eleven original songs written over the ten-year period from the collapse of Ings’s final attempt to break into the rock n’ roll hall of fame, the band RDS who released one album, Simplicity on Swirl Records”.
To be blunt, For Nothing sounds like a demo. The production values are solid but unremarkable, the arrangement and instrumentation is basic without much development, the songwriting is serviceable but hardly memorable. But the biggest problem is Ings’s vocals.
Now, the 60s singer-songwriter tradition permitted vocalists with less than perfect sonic quality to be accepted by mass audiences due to their ability to express their superior lyricism in the form of “conversational blues”. Legendary non-singers like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen quickly come to mind. In these instances, the songwriting (and especially the lyrics) are so very strong that most listeners are able, not only to ignore the vocal quality but to actually enjoy the singing style utilized as something unique.
Sadly, this is not the case for A Sea With 3 Stars as Ings’s vocal performance is pitchy and inconsistent. There are times where the melody appears to be too low for his vocal range which tends to force him to sing in an annoying flat tone. Hardly an enjoyable experience, it must be said. As stated before, quality control is lacking here and perhaps it’s no surprise that the album was produced by Ings with assistance from Adem Hilmi (currently working, and playing, with Pete Doherty and Babyshambles) and unfortunately, Ings was not able to be objectively about his own music and obviously, neither was Hilmi (who possesses respectable enough credentials).
It is ridiculous (and unreasonably cruel) to highlight any specific example of the album’s flaws but it must be highlighted that at least one song provides some light at the end of the tunnel – the rockabilly ditty, “Hit Me Harder” which is infectious and bouncy enough to get one’s attention. In this case, one can hear Ings’s avowed admiration for the work Lloyd Cole and Matt Johnson (The The) and Ings’s voice is entirely appropriate. But, this is the only instance where For Nothing does not become an ironic title and A Sea With 3 Stars actually demonstrates slim potential.
Review by Kevin Mathews