Songs which reinforce a formula, but it's ACR's very own.
Martin Longley 2010-06-14
In 2005, A Certain Ratio began playing gigs again. It's taken this Manchester crew the last five years to amass enough new material for an album. It's fitting that they've now returned, setting up an odd bounce-back echo between their 1977 formation and the current electro-twitch landscape dominated by LCD Soundsystem. Due to present-day nostalgia, the ACR approach is once again resonating with a contemporary vitality.
The roots of ACR's sound on Factory Records began alongside Gang of Four and The Pop Group's punk-funk scratches and continued to spread its influence with the early-1980s funk-punk expansions of Pigbag, The Higsons and Rip Rig + Panic. Martin Moscrop (guitar/trumpet) and Jez Kerr (bass/vocals) are the only original members, but drummer Donald Johnson has been around almost as long. The remaining players are intact from the 1996 roster, which also featured Denise Johnson (vocals), Liam Mullan (keyboards) and Tony Quigley (keys/saxophone).
The style is mainly redolent of the 1980s output, successfully inflated by modern production qualities. The 80s and 90s are amalgamated, but there's not much left of the visceral late-70s. Johnson's vocal contributions almost have an Acid Jazz soulfulness, contrasting sharply with Kerr's languid repetitiveness. Nimble basslines abound, with the tightly-connected combo making involved intertwinings in the name of funk. Skinny guitar parts mesh with pert slap-bass, as crisply snicking hi-hat is surrounded by synth clouds.
The directness of the vocals is both a strength and weakness. The hooks sink deep, but lines can become a touch simplistic in their repetitions. Kerr sounds perpetually distracted, as if drugged into a hazy trance of resignation. This is a strong part of ACR's unique atmosphere. On Teri, he could be serenading a robot. The delivery is so deadpan and disengaged that Kerr might be in a mocking mood. On Bird to the Ground the well-worn inclusion of studio-talk is guaranteed to become irritating with repeated airings.
Cowbell, tight hi-bass and flatulent synth dominate the stand-out Starlight, even if its drowsy vocals eventually undercut the effect. Which Is Reality heavily quotes Shaft, whilst Skunk boasts Quigley's saxophone at its hardest, the track taking a lone journey even further back to the 1960s funk lodestone. Very Busy Man pulsates with an abstracted edge, possessing a tougher bass attack. These songs reinforce a formula, but it's ACR's very own formula, and one that still remains highly distinctive.