A Certain Ratio: Early (Soul Jazz)****

BEFORE A CERTAIN Ratio there was The Pop Group but, the latter apart, no one can claim to have played an earlier role post-punk’s then seemingly improbable mutation into white funk. With their austere crew-cuts and khaki chic, Factory’s ACR came on like pale young Mancunian boys on a solemn safari to the heart of funk’s darkness, like fugitives from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum gone strangely native.

Some accused the band of affecting fascist overtones, while others imagined their mournful cover of Banbarra’s feisty northern soul classic ‘Shack Up’ was a one-off piece of deadpan humour. In fact, it was from this dialectical point that a vast subsequent history of left-field dance music proceeded, as well as the more right-field pop of Haircut 100.

Early, then, is a sorely overdue CD release, in particular for the long unavailable material from their first two EPs. With their scabrous wah-wah guitars, voluminous, looming bass sound and gothic inversion of dancefloor hedonism, they’re skeletal precursors to New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. There’s ‘Do The Du’, with vocalist Simon Topping droning an oblique paean to French proto-Surrealist Isidore Ducasse, the humid and uncertain ambience of ‘Fight’ and the ingenious melding of percussive frenzy and Gregorian woefulness that is ‘Blown Away’.

Also featured here is the more developed and subtly shaded material from 1982’s Sextet, such as ‘Knife Slits Water’, and from I’d Like To See You Again (also 1982), which is highly pleasant, but as songs like ‘Touch’ indicate (“If the feeling’s right we can turn out the light”), here was a band turning more towards Level 42 than 23 Skidoo. A pity 1981’s To Each…is so under-represented here – ‘Forced Laugh’ would have topped off this collection perfectly.

© David StubbsUncut, May 2002

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