I Sincerely Apologise for All the Trouble I’ve Caused
he publicity for David Ford’s new album, I Sincerely Apologise for All the Trouble I’ve Caused, claims his biggest influence is Tom Waits, but I suspect this is a diversionary tactic to avoid the “you mean this isn’t him?” comparisons to Damien Rice and other sadsack Limey pasty faces. The man doesn’t have a band (his previous band, Easyworld, broke up in 2004), so his music tends naturally towards sparse instrumentation and a prominently displayed heart-on-sleeve. It’s unclear whether the fedora he wears denotes troubadour-style mystique, a fillip to the man’s starved sense of irony, or a tribute to Waits’ pork-pie.
Ford deserves fair credit for giving uninhibited vent to his gothic sense of romance in an age when even Belle and Sebastian have finally acknowledged that whimsy counts as a pose and U2 get credit for sincerity simply by showing up to work. His words come in a sweet tenor rush liberally sprinkled with swear words, an experience not unlike trying to have an argument with a friend while eating cotton candy. Thus “Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck)”: “Ghosts walk through the walls / They catch your rise and falls / And sink back to sleeping again / Dust it settles on shelves / Will you shake me from myself / And tell me I’m alright / All the time on your own / The flowers have grown / Under your feet.” Ghosts, dust and flowers, and that’s just the first verse; how does a miserable fuck top that? With soccer of course: Ford has his local footie team help out on the rousing “La la la” outro, to unexpectedly muted effect. Maybe they had just lost; maybe they were feeling apologetic too.
Much of the rest of the album goes by in a rush of singer-songwriter vagueness (Apologise is only 8 songs long). Ford is presumably not aware of Waits’ output since Swordfishtrombones. His wistful, washed-up piano ballads share the same late-night maudlin feel as the drunken early-period Waits (“Another empty bottle in the hand / It helps to kill the things that we don’t understand.”), but are entirely innocent of any of the brimstone that inflects Waits’ latter work.
Unfortunately, what makes “The Piano Has Been Drinking” or “Closing Time” magnificent, besides their delicious self-mocking humor, is the glory of Waits’ rusted vocals. Ford appears to have neither. Ford’s voice is almost painfully sensitive, lacking Waits’ grit and Rice’s clarion command. He sounds permanently wounded, husky and aching with unshed tears. This is not a bad thing for a singer-songwriter; when Ford sings “I’m a fool for you,” it isn’t hard to imagine the shy girls swooning. The rest of us will want more: we want him to break down all the way, or get angry, or at least surprise us with his angst. Ford’s apologies do none of the above, and the clunking sax solo that closes “What Would You Have Me Do?” gives us a good idea why: he’s most interested in seducing himself.
For a man with his head fairly irretrievably up his own ass, Ford has a winning way with simple melodic structures. His songs pile layers of instruments and internal references until the plodding pace begins to feel almost stately. The album’s standout track, “State of the Union” begins with a wan fingerpicked pattern but gathers momentum from Ford’s political vitriol. Live, Ford canters busily around the stage adding different instruments to the mix and looping them to build the requisite racket. The studio take benefits from the relative concision but lacks the visual diversion and never achieves the barn-burning bombast that the lyrics, Ford’s best, beg. Skating the thin ice of acerbic discontent while mostly avoiding slipping into the fatally frigid waters of cheap disillusionment, Ford puts his “mouthful of words” too good use. Thus: “Get your coat ‘cause the righteous leaving / ‘Cause they can’t work out what the hell to believe in” and “How they love you, so cold and so vicious / With friends like these, well who needs politicians?” It’s the first half of a great angry song. One only wishes that Ford would cause a little more trouble before he started apologizing.