A Certain Ratio were a band that I have been aware of since about 1982 but until this summer, no releases had ever been in my Record Cell. I knew they were a Factory band, which had, and then lost cachet with me over the 34 years. I knew they were “funk,” which is always a pull for me. I have responded to funk since childhood, and while it was not a part of my early adolescence [a.k.a. the Prog years…], it has certainly been a significant part of my adulthood! When I was listening to Pandora in ’06-’07 I chanced to hear “Knife Slits Water” on my station and noted it, though I have never seen the album with this cut on it. At the Harvest Records anniversary sale, I saw their 1986 “FORCE” CD for one almighty dollar, and these are my impressions after 1.5 listens.
#1 • A Certain Ratio: FORCE UK CD 
- Only Together
- Fever 103°
- Naked And White
- Mickey Way
- And Then She Smiles
- Take Me Down
- Nostromo A Gogo
- Si Firmi O Grido
The first track was not at all what I was anticipating from this band. The band proffered a variety of jazzfunk but not one that was like anything I’d really heard before. It was more like JAZZfunk with a thinner sound that I was anticipating by far. Sure, the bass was there but the airiness of the mix, involving the many woodwinds with the emphasis on melody throughout was a shocker for me. I had always imagined them in my mind sounding more aggressive, like Gang Of Four.
After reeling from the weight of my displaced expectations, the next song, “Bootsy,” was a title I was at least familiar with. ¡Madre de dios! Was that Corinne Drewery on backing vocals? And Andy Connell was in the lineup for this album? They performed on this album while recording their own debut? Why did this fact never cross my eyes before I bought this CD? I am astounded at being a S.O.S. fan from reading about the “Breakout” single in the UK press! That stunner out of the way, I was again expecting something more redolent of Mr. Collins than the soaring pop that was on offer here. This band were definitely confounding my expectations; yet not wasting my time.
I finally heard something that I could tie down to Factory Records on “Fever 103°” with the vocal delivery of Jeremy Kerr being very much in the Bernard Sumner camp, though the music was perhaps closer to TVLKING HEVDS “Fear Of Music” territory. I liked the complex time signatures baked into “Naked + White” with the saxes dancing around the open spaces in the drumbeats from Donald Johnson.
The in-your-face bass of Kerr on the single “Mickey Way” was closer to what I expected from funk but the horns were eking out their own space in the more jazz than funk arrangement. Then, from left field came “And Then She Smiles” with it being a winsome, sunny slice of pop ballad for this band. It offered a lovely, sun dappled sound far from the confines of a sweaty club, which was where I gather most of their music would be welcome at.
Another facet of the band was the cocktail piano jazz of “Anthem,” which was the closing song on the LP of this title. Then the bonus tracks were actually more typical of what I had expected from A Certain Ratio. “Inside” was one of the “Bootsy” B-sides, and the slap bass was every inch the sound of 1986. Even more thrilling was the CD only bonus track “Nostromo A GoGo.” A track reflective of the UK’s [very] brief appropriation of Go-Go rhythms from the Washington D.C. Go-Go scene that was super trendy for about three months in the fashion mad UK before losing out to House Music from Chicago as the über-dominant musical trend that swept through the UK like a virus; lasting for over five years of mutation.
They saved the best for last. “Si Firmi O Grido” was like a super-hot Level 42 track with the band at their most ferocious. The syncopation of the synths and the furious rhythms were enhanced considerably by the weird samples mixed into the track that stuck out and swooped overhead in what sounded like holographic pans not technically possible! That this one was seven minutes long didn’t hurt even a little bit.
So this was really all over the place. Not quite what I was expecting, I had pre-visions of Post-Punk Funk and this was far jazzier than I had imagined. The vocals were good and the playing was looser and jazzier on most of the tracks here. There was more melody than I had anticipated, with some tracks like the paradoxically titled “Bootsy” being the furthest thing from my pre-conceived notions.One excellent thing about this album was the way that the instrumentation and production strayed away from mid-80s production tropes. Only the occasional bit of slap bass signified that age of music. Elsewhere, the reliance on soprano and tenor saxophones by Anthony Quigley, gave the music a much less typical hornprint than anything else from 1986. The sax tone was in the Kenny G area, but the actual music played was the furthest thing from the candyfloss “jazz” of the permed one. I think it’s too early to draw conclusions on ACR based on just this one album, so I need to find more of their elusive discs.
CONCLUSION: enjoy…in quantity
Phew! That was a tough one! This “30 days: 30 Albums: 30 Days” thread took a lot out of me. The weekend postings were very difficult. I really didn’t find any time to write more than an unfinished introduction last Saturday, which I posted anyway, for the 12 people who probably saw it. I cheated and posted a clearly unfinished post since it was the only way to save what was left of any face. So don’t expect another one of these any time soon! It was five years since the last such thread, and if I have any say in it, it’ll be another ten before I commit to a post a day, even if it is the best way to dive into an oversized stack of CDs. It would be way easier to simply no longer binge buy any more music!
– 30 –