"Pop is all about gestures; whipping up a light froth, yet ensuring that the sugary stuff has enough acidity in it to stop you feeling sick. Acerbic pen sketches rather than full oils. "
Scritti Politti – White Bread, Black Beer. (Rough Trade/Konkurrent)
Trying to make good let alone great pop records is always a difficult enterprise, not least because many artists never get the balance between the throwaway and the sucker punch right. Pop is all about gestures; whipping up a light froth, yet ensuring that the sugary stuff has enough acidity in it to stop you feeling sick. Acerbic pen sketches rather than full oils. That kind of thing. And there are precious few practitioners who don't eventually fall into some kind of parody, either of themselves, or of a more successful band. Luckily Scritti Politti are still making records, as they are, perhaps one of the greatest, most consistent practitioners of the pop form around. Youngsters! Take note!
The Boom Boom Bap is classic Scritti Politti - beautiful understated vocals carefully set off against dreamy synths. The refrain is a thumping, affirming swirl which momentarily shatters the calm that originally prevailed. An absolutely perfect pop song and above that there's not much more to say. Following up is No Fine Lines, which is a quiet, abrupt observation given emotional weight by the understated, moody synths. This is rapidly followed by the Brian Wilson-style beauty of Snow in the Sun, replete with tinkling arpeggios and emotive chord changes. It's such a simple song. Half way through there is an abrupt volte-face, with a dreamy choral siren call (in fact repeating the beginning of the song) offset by a hip hop beat. It's brilliant.
As always with Scritti Politti, it's the things left out that make you want to listen more attentively. And that is despite the obviously personal nature of some of the lyrics. There has always been a great deal of space in Gartside's releases and it is noticeable that he has a quite spooky ability to allow various instruments the right amount of space in which to perform. You can hear this on the rather madly titled Cooking; a lovely question and answer strum which harbours a relationship tussle or two. I love the Beatles-style falsetto vocal recall at the end of the chorus. Throw is a glide down stream in an open boat with psychedelic, mandolin-style keyboards whereas Dr Abernathy is a soft acoustic lament till about half way through, when it suddenly morphs into a kind of Roy Wood style stomp before returning to the ethereal musings witnessed earlier on the track.
Petrococadollar is another quiet, bitter reflection with very little instrumentation whereas E Eleventh Nuts is a weird amalgam of various beats, what one minute is a jaunty jog offset by a sugary synth refrain then morphs into a Glen Campbell style work-out before settling down. Other tracks to note are the brilliant Road to No Regret, which has a beautiful David Crosby style chord pattern introducing it and a Stone Roses style whispering drum pattern. Locked is a futuristic, elegiac whisper, carried by a buoyant synth noise. Yet again a chorus blossoms almost out of nowhere half way through.
A song (seemingly) about Gartside's English teacher, Mrs Hughes follows, beginning in a soft acapella harmony and developing into a softly spoken acoustic story for a bit until it obviously tires of this, preferring instead to become a thumping, rock-tinged ballad. It doesn't stop there, as we are ferried between acoustics, acapella, and rock for a good six minutes – ending on a hip hop beat. He's 'avin a larf... The last track, Robin Hood is a Super Furries style acoustic strum-athon broke up by some human beat-box and a great fading chorus.
So, do you dare buy it? It's not really a trendy LP, but it's a cracker, very beautifully constructed and almost at variance with everything about. Worthy of your attention.
Words: Richard Foster.