I REALLY wanted to love the new A Certain Ratio LP. After countless plays I’ve accepted it’s not going to click the way I’d hoped. A Certain Ratio have grown up and diverged from their unique roots to a much more classifiable and less special state.
A Certain Ratio are capable of being the best band in the world. In their early days they were one of the few bands that knew exactly how far to take the newly discovered ‘unconventional unpredictable’ trait, stopping before their bizarre jarring sound toppled from the shadowy thrill of half known pleasures to the irritatingly obvious contrivance of intentionally difficult listening favoured by the howling likes of Public Image.
Perhaps because they were always creeping on the edge and never wallowing safely ‘in’ any definite style/rut (funk, disco, etc) they combined the trance of each type of music with that essential ability to surprise.
They carried off their eccentricities because, without being smug, they retained an aloof aura of composure and confidence. Despite the almost identical drum intros on many of the Graveyard And Ballroom tracks it’s a startlingly assured debut.
Somewhere between the past and the present, A Certain Ratio’s evolution landed them in a spaceless, timeless (futureless) black hole where they hovered uncertainly and pursued various tangents that didn’t lead anywhere much. The recruitment of Martha Tilson seemed to save them from their overlong experimental dirges.
The recent disappearance of Martha Tilson now robs I’d Like To See You Again of the spaciness Sextet boasted. I’d Like… is a much more level record, and sees ACR accentuating their funky overtones and peeling the music bare of everything else. I’d Like… is full of sharp city clout; snappy, alive, aware…and, relative to their past, empty. It doesn’t flirt with mysticism, hence it’s got no tracks as magical as ‘Knife Slits Water’, nor does it take the risk of offending with bugle bursts or whistle squawks, or feature anything as blatantly silly as two sticks being cracked together. This ACR care too much about what people will think, they’ve lost their love of change.
Of course, Donald Johnson’s imaginative percussive movements and Jeremy Kerr’s strong but flexible bass mean that if the music was to be judged purely on the (one) level of ‘Disco’, it’d still rate highly. ACR are in no danger of stagnation or extinction – but they deserve more than a shared place in a cosy pigeonhole.
On I’d Like… they’re too safely contained in the confines of their funky niche. They’ve swapped subtle lyric seduction for strong sexuality.
‘Touch’, the opener on side one, works because the blatantly physical lyrics (“Give all you’ve got/And girl you’ve got a lot/Your body feels so good to me”) are carried and enhanced by Kerr’s throbbing bassline. Elsewhere, on ‘Hot Knights’ for example, the vocals are inaudible, although the characteristic deadpan mumble has been replaced by a half hearted paaaaaaarty tone twice as irritating.
‘Guess Who’ even sinks to used lyrics: Simon Topping imploring the listener to “Work that body” in a put-on American accent that would have to be a joke if it wasn’t Simon Topping. But most of the tracks are instrumental where even the previously untamed drumming is tidied into neat mediocrity. ‘Saturn’, for example, is pruned of all ACR hallmarks but the trumpets which, on their own, sound brassy and whiny, and ‘Show Case’ and ‘Sesamo Apriti’ feature self consciously weird noises ACR have wisely avoided up to now. A Certain Ratio aren’t sounding like A Certain Ratio anymore so much as the latest NY disco imports. Is that enough?
© Leyla Sanai, New Musical Express, 4 December 1982