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 –
“Knife slits water” is on Sextet, ACR’s 1982 album. I have an original copy on vinyl, and still enjoy playing it! It’s available on CD direct from Mute or from Amazon.
Robert Saunders – Yeah, I saw all of those Mute reissues and have duly added them to the Endless Want List®.
Monk, where have you been? Only this year you jumped into ACR? I enjoyed ACR from the first single to Force. Knife Slits Water 12″ is probably my favorite EP.
Force is my preferred LP, And Then She Smiles my go to track. I was not such a fan of the funk/latin elements but the vocal delivery ( very much in the New Order vein) and jazz overtones were fine. I thought Force was well recorded. It does have a slightly thin airiness to it which I prefer. Perhaps mid 80s production?
Being on Factory was another draw as well as the artwork, especially the 12 inches.
After Force, I felt they went too MOR but when they reformed, it was back to 1982.
In the film 24 Hours, as ACR (the actors anyway) are playing to an empty Hacienda, Rob Gretton and New Order (more actors) can be heard saying “ACR betrayed us” playing funk-quite humourous.
Jordan – I’ve been in the sticks for all of my life. Either Orlando, Florida or Asheville, North Carolina. Actually, I recall seeing “FORCE” in the import CD bins back in ’86 when that was still a “thing.” In the last 20 years import or US CDs seem the same in cost. But having never heard ACR, the impetus was not there to drop $18 on a CD. No videos ever met my eye. No college radio ever played them [to my knowledge]. I relied on video a lot in the 80s to absorb new bands and ACR simply weren’t there.
I’ve been kicking this around only because I am a saddo Swing Out Sister completionist….so our monk is not the only one late to the party. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever even heard anything by ACR. Maybe YT once I get some internet back at home (the AT&T saga continues and lurches to a coup d etat conclusion this weekend).
I was already into “Force” when Swing Out Sister came on the scene, and I recognized Corinne’s voice from the ACR track. A while later I made a mix tape for a friend who just loved the S.O.S. album and included “Bootsy”, and I told her in my accompanying notes that the track featured backing vocals by a sister who hadn’t yet swung out.
I rise to verify that I most definitely played them (occasionally) on “Chas’ Crusty Old Wave” on WPRK during your Orlando period, m’lud. Any band that named themselves after a lyric in “The True Wheel” is bound to get my attention! The track I most often played was “Do the Du” from their debut.
ACR were one of the earlier acts that Ron Kane turned me onto, and “Force” is my favorite, an album I can listen to endlessly. I also recommend the Factory set “The Old and The New”, and also the very scarce A&M UK release “Good Together”. My favorites overall, though, are the 12″ “Brasilia”, a cool cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry “Bout A Thing” (also from a 12″) and the single version of “27 Forever” (from “Up In Downsville’).
Mark Moerman – Ironically, when I was in Toronto the last time [17 years ago] I was able to find one of the ACR 12″ers that Ron had on his want list. A rare example of me actually finding something he needed [which entailed a trip to another country]. Now that the ice was broken, I will look carefully for any ACR in any bins. Going to Atlanta this weekend for Simple Minds and we will be sharing the search for the large communion wafers with Mr. Ware and Echorich.
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the only thing i have from acr, is
the ‘four for the floor’ cd single
and twelve inch, which has the
song’ good together’ which has
bernard sumner and shaun ryder
uncreditted and unlisted on
backing vocals, but he’s really
hard to hear on it. thats about
it. i like that song though.
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Thanks for the 30 days of reviews, I’ve really enjoyed it while being off work convalescing. Enjoy Simple Minds!
It is mandatory that you take on ACR from the beginning. Their musical journey is a wide and varied one. From dark, Post Punk Nihilism, then the bestial, primordial funk of their earliest metamorphosis, to Cool Hot Cool Jazz infused explorations of their next self, they once again appeared from a paper cocoon ready to take on a refined stab at Pop through their Jazz Funk purple glasses.
After Force they focused even more on Pop music infused with grand gestures and masterful lyrics. ACR’s final musical permutation would take on House and Madchester and Balearic with music that rose far above the genres. When the reconvened with 2008’s Mind Made Up they were older, wiser and so direct and in your face, it’s like they wrap their collective hands around your throat while you listen.
ACR is ABSOLUTELY on of my favorite bands of ALL TIME. They never had hits, but they also never stopped being influential on other artists. Their music has enriched my life. [virtual mic drop]
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True dat. What he said!