What does it sound like?:
The Mute Records ACR reissues continue apace. We’re now going ‘deep catalogue’ with two long-lost albums.
First up is ‘Good Together’, originally released in 1989 never to be seen again. This was ACR’s major label debut having finally lost patience with the lack of promotion they were getting from Factory and hitched to A&M Records. This was just before ‘Madchester’ – a scene largely built on a melding of Dance, funk and post-punk that ACR had been pioneering a few years earlier. ACR could have made hay there, but instead they seemed intent on going down a very slick, commercial Blue-eyed soul route. I suspect they were hoping for mainstream success by trying to sound more mainstream- just at the time that Indie and club acts were seriously breaking through by doing the opposite. Bad timing..like Artie Fufkin… but to be fair, who in 1987 could have predicted Shaun Ryder and Ian Brown would have made it to Top of the Pops?
So ‘Good Together’ arrives in Madchester with barely a trace left of the band that made ‘To Each’ and ‘Sextet’ and it’s all very smooth and slickly produced – and borders on the bland schmalz that M People and Lighthouse Family would plague the charts with in later years. In their defence, they were perhaps immersed in the Balearic sounds that were part of the hipper end of the dance scene in the late 80s and of course ‘The Big E’ became a minor hit, given a Bernard Sumner and Fatboy Slim remix a bit later.
It’s not a bad record, you could at a push – make a claim for it having a bit of that wistful smart-pop sensibility of Danny Wilson or Deacon Blue but it doesn’t play to the band’s strengths. There’s hardly a cowbell in sight and their twisted take on Funk seems to have been almost entirely expunged and it lacks the grit and melodic swoops of the previous LP ‘Force’ which was a smart, soulful pop record.
The title track is the best thing on it – (left off the original Vinyl presumably for space reasons) but restored to the double vinyl reissue and ironically featuring barely audible backing vox from Shaun Ryder whose, ACR influenced, band would tear up the next 3 years. More essential are the bonus cuts on the CD ‘Repercussions’ and ‘2000 a√:’ where suddenly the old ACR gatecrash their own album, get the bongos down from the loft and rediscover their groove just in time.
Fast forward to 1992 and A&M records have decided that ACR have delighted them long enough. They’re not having the hits that were expected of them – a last-ditch Norman Cook remix of their classic ‘Shack Up’ is released as a Promo but is shelved. On the plus side with the ‘ACR:MCR’ album the band have found a nice middle ground between the slick Pop-soul they clearly still want to make, and the tough, bass heavy grooves of their past – A&M haven’t a clue what to do with that – step forward New Order manager Rob Gretton who has grown tired of arguing with Tony Wilson about releasing Dance music on Factory (Black Box ‘Ride on Time’ could have been on Factory apparently) and set up his own label which will have some smash hits with Beat Club and Sub Sub (later to become Doves).
‘Up in Downsville’ opens with ‘Manik’ and – hooray! the cowbell, whistles and congas are back – not only that – the slightly off-key trumpets are back too and if it wasn’t for the fact that this an obviously programmed/looped production you could be hearing a track from one of their classic albums with some additional Synths and Acid basslines.
The record suffers somewhat for the over-reliance on programming and loops, particularly given the band boasts one of the funkiest drummer’s on the planet and we don’t get to hear him properly – these sort of sound like demos for what would could have been a really good album if we got to hear the band playing it live (which I did at the time and they were fucking amazing). Another annoyance is that the band clearly wanted to include loads of film dialogue/samples and obviously had to re-voice them all which sounds naff – not their fault but damn you copyright lawyers!
The highlight is probably the title track, a swaggering take on Funkadelic/Family Stone which Primal Scream pretty much recreated in full on ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ but Ratio got there first without any help from George Clinton or Alan McGee.
So while the production and sound palette is terribly dated, this is definitely an essential purchase for diehard ACR fans not least as ‘Turn Me On’ and ‘Wonder Y’ and ’27 Forever’ still feature in the band’s live sets with Denise Johnson (also of Primal Scream) taking the lead on vocals – and last time I saw them it was these songs that really got the crowd going.
What does it all *mean*?
‘Good Together’ is certainly is the furthest they ever went from their original sound. I’d love to know what the band think of it – and I know this record has it’s fans who swear by it – so for me this is probably for completists only… but who knows..
P.s. The cover of ‘Up In Downsville’ is a take on the pre-privatisation British Rail Freight livery for Coal Trains and looks really cool- there’s something about ACR and Trains and Planes…..
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
ACR, New Order, Happy Mondays, House Music, Balearic Music