A Certain Ratio: Sextet (Factory Fact 55)

A CERTAIN JE NE SAIS QUOI

ANOTHER COLLECTION of “great dance songs” from the miserable Mancunians, hard on the heels of the brash and rigid “funk” that failed to fuse the nation on last year’s To Each…

To Each… always struck me as the most spurious of titles of A Certain Ratio record, suggesting as it does a notion of tolerance quite foreign to their music, performance and packaging. The first time I saw them live, A Certain Ratio’s essential spirit struck me as resting on an unholy combination of introspection, isolation and complacency.

Sadly, the mystique that events, management and music created for Joy Division is only desired by A Certain Ratio. They’ve rapidly become the embodiment of the negative aspects of the Factory style. What once was a stylish intervention has turned inward, a toenail busy justifying its self-perpetuating motion. A Certain Ratio, like Factory, have almost forgotten we exist. Instead, in the studio, they have been working, producing themselves. They haven’t noticed that there is no longer any entrance or exit into their studio.

Sextet differs from its predecessor most noticeably in the presence of one Martha Tilson on lead vocals. She practices in the British school of ordinary speech vocalising, as naif and flat as its initiator, Alison of Young Marble Giants. Her vocals are not, however, allowed to dominate in the mix. That’s left to the orthodoxy of finger-popping, thumb-bopping bass and, as ever, the excellent and sensitive drumming that is Ratio’s trademark.

At times Sextet suggests that A Certain Ratio are attempting to draw a blueprint of funk, to find a place where the rhythm meets a spacier, exploratory sound. Yet far from inspiring one another, these two Ratio tendencies collide and collapse into stiffness. The spectre that now hangs over A Certain Ratio’s heads is the possibility of their irrelevance, their inability to move anyone except themselves.

There are the occasional flashes of beauty here, suggestions of melody and the watery tenderness at which the record’s cover hints. ‘Crystal’, the second track has a melody and a mood and convinces thereby, beating the recent twelve inch ‘Waterline’ at its own game. Elsewhere, this is the Pink Floyd without record sales, the new white elephant. + +

© Mark CooperRecord Mirror, 16 January 1982

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