A Certain Ratio
Manchester funk, soul, Latin, electro specialists A Certain Ratio recently celebrated 40 years together with a huge box set, ACR:box, released via Mute Records. Matt Mead reviews for Louder Than War.
The nature of that beast that is ACR have been an underrated integral part of the northern music scene since the late 70s. Keeping the likes of Grace Jones, Martin Hannett and Joy Division company in rehearsal spaces was the norm when they started out. Since those first hatchings the primitive beast has now grown into a monster groove of a machine, delivering pin point beats with just the right amount of whistles, slap bass lines and drumming break beats.
Previously released material with a sprinkling of new material is carefully handpicked across the board, 53 songs over four CDs or seven vinyl set. The content here is completely outstanding. Pioneers of their sound they occupy their own Olympic stand in musical history mixing the likes of Santana, Donald Byrd and Funkadelic for first place results every time.
Signed originally to Tony Wilsons famed Factory Records the band had to contend with living in the shadow of Joy Division, maybe that has been something that always dogged their path to ultimate success, or maybe I’m doing the band a disservice. Disc one offers their work between 1979 – 1983, the heyday of post punk. Opening tracks All Night Party and The Thin Boys, the band’s debut single, are not what you come to expect from ACR. Plodding bass, edgy guitar and serious vocal does little to distil the Joy Division comparison.
The rest of the disc thankfully champions the more familiar sounds we have come accustomed to. Afro-Caribbean funk and cosmic dub feature prominently. Waterline, Knife Cuts Water build on the deft change in direction with Kether Hot Knives weighing in at 11 minutes strong we see the winds of change gathering pace. However with highs sometimes there are lows. Their cover of Stevie Wonders Don’t You Worry About A Thing goes a little too far into the realms of slap dash funk, the sort of thing Level 42 have become famed for.
This step into cheese thankfully doesn’t come out smelling too badly. Disc two does features a few more forays into this 80s period. Golden nuggets are Si Fermir O Grido and Brazilia 6.10 from 1985. Powerhouse rhythm sections sounds like the band are in full on sweat box mode with sleeveless t shirts the envisaged apparel option. There is also another rewind to their debut single sound in The Runner from 1987s Greeting Four EP, possibly the band were still searching for their own trademark sound.
Third and fourth discs feature unreleased material with some dynamite output. Houses In Motion demos, a Talking Heads cover, has that distinctive deep back funk that has become part of the bands familiar sound. The aforementioned Grace Jones was drafted in to provide vocals on these tracks, but at some point the collaboration fell through leaving these stunning tracks on the cutting floor, which is a shame as the second instrumental version is quite simply stunning.
Final disc has the opening mystical chant of BTTW 90, Happy Meal could easily fit into finger clicking pop back catalogues of Electronic or The Pet Shop Boys dance floor numbers. Then in comes W.S.L.U. accompanied by a string section, the higher grade of funk / soul helps the band to stand out as the masters of their own craft, however, stripping down their sound to the bare bones offers equally stunning results..
ACR:box is a delve into the archives of a most fascinating band who have lasted the tests of time and are still going strong as a live outfit with Denise Johnson (Primal Scream) on vocals adding her own classy glamour to their ever impressive back catalogue. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 40 years to celebrate an outfit of such stand out quality.
Article by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.