A Certain Ratio: The Graveyard And The Ballroom (Factory) ****

A CERTAIN Ratio (currently the hippest combo in Manchester) typify the approach, style, feel, and idealism of Factory Records. They are distant, difficult to touch and pompous. Which isn’t necessarily a put-down. In fact their improvement over the last six months is staggering.

The pomposity has been channelled directly into the sound, as with Public Image, but this sound is unique and adventurous without resorting to Cabaret Voltaire-style self-indulgence. This is an exploration into modern soulful funk. It utilizes the drum-based band stance to a degree unrivalled in this country today. Amazingly, the end result is neither dreary or inaccessible. This is the final proof.

The Graveyard And The Ballroom is a 14 track cassette that retails at the price of a cheap album. Exquisitely packaged in a see-through plastic evening bag it is yet another example of the avant garde humour of the label in question. But above all, this album is immensely enjoyable and stimulating, powerful without being overpowering and in tune with the progressive pulsebeat without resorting to the shock tactics of the over ambitious experimentalists.

The graveyard in question is a newly founded studio in North Manchester where A Certain Ratio documented Side A of this album. Seven clean, crisp tracks packed with subtle hooks and instant as acceptable pop, as thoughtful as Joy Division and as raw as true rockabilly. The titles are perhaps verging on the arty areas of pretension but the strength within such songs as ‘Faceless’, ‘Crippled Child’ and the concluding (and incidentally disgusting) ‘Strain’ is clearly on view. Throughout the side the instruments battle with each other for recognition. A healthy contest fought and easily won by the dominating drums.

Side Two is further proof of this fact. Recorded live at the Electric Ballroom, it demonstrates the harshness of their live gigs without detracting from the quality of the sound. The recording is excellent and uncluttered, and none of the expected noise gremlins are present to ruin the performance. A terrific version of ‘The All Night Party’ kicks the side into action with bouncing vengeance. By the time you’ve waded through ‘Oceans’, ‘The Choir’ and the superb bubbly ‘Suspect’ you’ll be ready to accept the sound of A Certain Ratio as a true advance in noise expression. Faceless, fearless, hopeful and ultimately successful. A minor step forward, a midget gem.

© Mick MiddlesSounds, 9 February 1980

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