What does it sound like?:
This is the final batch of the reissues of the ACR back catalogue on Mute Records and we end with their 1982 release ‘Sextet’ which many consider their masterpiece. It’s joined by an album from 1996 ‘Change the Station’ which slipped out in such a low-key way that I have never got around to hearing – and finally their most recent release ‘Mind Made Up’ (originally released in 2008).
Sextet has been re-issued several times, and rightly so. This is a superlative record and it’s only right that this remains ‘in print’ on CD, deluxe orange Vinyl and whatever digital channels you prefer. If you only get one Ratio record, this is the one. Everything about this record is odd, intriguing and mysterious and wonderful- summed up by the beautiful sleeve design, the odd typeface, the old desert aviation image inside (ACR are obsessed with trains and planes), the water tower, and the turkeys. The music was recorded somewhere in Stockport but the sound is informed by their trips to New York, their immersion in Latin rhythms, and their own attempts to approximate the Jazz, Funk and electro imports they were listening to high up in the skyways of Hulme. Probably by accident more than design, they stumble across something quite unique.
Singer Simon Topping is already retreating away from the mic (in spite of Tony Wilson- who spent as much time trying to convince him to sing as he did persuading Vini Reilly to stick to the guitar) and spends most of this record behind his Timbales and cowbells and largely letting the mysterious Martha Tilson (on her only album with ACR, or indeed any other band) take the lead on most of the vocal tracks. Her voice is an acquired taste, a little off-key, a bit off-beat but it sort of works particularly when her and Simon duet on ‘Crystal’ and adds to the sum of this fucking brilliantly weird record. Donald Johnson lays down the propulsive beat, which anchors the groove and seems to give everyone else carte blanche to parp away on wayward horns, make weird noises into vocoders, play musical boxes, bash away on Latin percussion, play tapes of found sounds and somehow it all hangs together and at times is thoroughly funky. Oh, just to root you right back into early 80s Granadaland listen out for Bet Lynch “Us barmaids ‘ave got homes to go to an’ all you know” fed through a vocoder. This is absolute Post-Punk Funk 101 alongside Metal Box, The Pop Group, ESG and Talking Heads but way more psychedelic and fruity than any of ’em. If you’re remotely intrigued please give this one a spin on Spotify or wherever. I must confess I was a bit baffled by this record at first – which I got from the legendary M1 Music shop in Manchester (don’t go looking for it) but it repays repeat listens – over a period of many many years – so stick with it if you don’t like it at first.
The latter day two releases don’t really stand a chance do they? They both have their Vinyl debut on Mute having previous only been on CD. ‘Change the Station’ was released on Rob Gretton’s label ‘Robs Records’ in 1996. The rhythm section is all sampled and sequenced (which always seems odd with ACR having such a fantastic funky rhythm section) and it’s that which make this sound rather flat, airless and dated. Tony Quigley’s sax and the occasional burst of guitar just about rescues this from sounding like a bunch of pre-sets playing back on a demonstration CD for a new Yamaha keyboard. It’s pleasant enough, light jazzy electronica but this is definitely one for completists.
‘Mind Made Up’ is much more promising and helped by the fact that its sounds like a band actually playing together in the studio rather than some sampled drum hits assembled on a grid. ‘I Feel Light’ sounds like a reboot of their debut ‘All Night Party’ and Denise Johnson makes a welcome return on several tracks. They actually revisit a track from Sextet (Rialto) which sort of works as a joining-the-dots exercise – and in fact would have fitted quite nicely on Screamadelica by Denise’s other band Primal Scream. Best of all is ‘Teri’ – apparently the first song the band ever wrote but never recorded – it sounds like a cross between their earliest drumerless work and the sophisticated pop they did on ‘Force’ and ‘Good Together’ – a complete curveball.
What does it all *mean*?
Coming next is the ‘best of ‘ and possibly a box set – but who knows. Ask Daniel Miller if you see him.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
A Certain Ratio, The Pop Group, PiL, Miles Davis, Electro, Soul, Funk, Jazz Fusion