Thursday, 26 May 2016

A Certain Ratio - Early (2002)

I felt a bit sorry for A Certain Ratio being more or less reduced to a joke about fake tan in Michael Winterbottom's otherwise fine 24 Hour Party People, not least because any conversation banging on about the eternally seeping talent fistula of the Manchester music scene will almost certainly neglect A Certain Ratio whilst singing the praises of crappier entities who flogged more records; although it turns out that Martin Moscrop was musical supervisor for the film, so maybe that was just how it looked to me. I gather A Certain Ratio used to slap on the fake tan before taking the stage back in the early days. I assume it was simply an exercise in generating some distance between themselves and the ruthlessly pasty punky new wave environment of the time.

I don't for a second believe there was really anything inherently racist about punk or new wave at the end of the seventies, even if it was mostly a white thing, but at the same time it seems potentially significant that bands such as Skrewdriver were able to shift ideological gear without actually sounding any different; and then of course it occasionally seemed like there might be a bit of a subtext to the traditional punky hatred of disco. Anyway, I can see why A Certain Ratio might have felt inclined to get away from that, and from - I suppose - pale grey audiences of Joy Division fans crying into their chips. Never mind all that there's always been a dance element to our music, man bollocks, A Certain Ratio were a big, funky disco act which just happened to have emerged from the north of England rather than some New York club, and they were a big, funky disco act long before it was cool, and way before Cabaret Voltaire started slapping that bass whilst mumbling about James Brown. In fact, so far as I can tell, you might legitimately trace most of England's eighties white soul back to this lot, which probably means that Blue Rondo a la Turk and Spandau Ballet were sort of their fault, but never mind.

The thing which set them apart from many others was an understanding of their limitations and a willingness to work around them, which is why you might not even immediately recognise that sound as belonging to a big, funky disco act - because this is actual soul, dance, disco or whatever the hell you want to call it, rather than a bunch of white guys engaged in a Kenny Everett impersonation with unconvincing handclaps and whoops of get on up in a phoney American accent. At the same time, of course it's an experiment - as I suppose might seem implicit from the Eno reference in the name - but one with which they were fully engaged, as should be any musician doing anything other than just going through the motions and making the right noises; and this is why you get oddities like the misleadingly named All Night Party - as sunless an entity as ever was and which at least saves us the trouble of bothering to own Bauhaus records. Sometimes the horns don't quite get there, sounding like the brass equivalent of one of those school bands all sawing away on their strings, but the spirit of the enterprise as a whole keeps it together.

I'd say this band were magnificent but of course they're still going in some form or other, so I suppose the past tense is misleading, being a specific reference to the material collected on these two discs. With hindsight, this version of A Certain Ratio might represent the raw seam of sweaty goodness which others tapped for eventual transformation into all that was horrible, slick, devoid of soul, and gratifyingly annoying to Morrissey in the eighties. A Certain Ratio was what all those really shit bands were supposed to sound like, but they just didn't have what it takes.

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