Friday, April 18, 2008


The early 80s were a great time for music. Punk had changed our ideas about popular music, washing away the notion that technical ability was the measure of merit and installing creativity as our new god. Postpunk spawned a ton of great bands, some of them looking back to garage and underground rock of the late 60s/early 70s--stuff like the MC5, Velvet Underground, Iggy--others creating a new type of expression out of punk, funk and reggae, among other ingredients, and still others looking for inspiration to krautrock and Bowie, who was then a Colossus in music, way ahead of the pace, not the tired hack that he is today, always chasing the latest cool thing.

Punkfunk is a much abused label these days, slapped onto any of the bands--and there are tons of them--who hark back to the postpunk bands who had a bit of groove. In retrospect, bands like Gang of Four were not actually all that funky; it was more that they weren't as straight ahead as some of their contemporaries. They were being compared for funkiness with Elvis Costello or other new wave stuff, which very much eschewed danceability.

A Certain Ratio were more funkpunk, I suppose. Their combination of scratchy guitars and chunky basslines made them bastard sons of Parliament, rather than Iggy or the Doors. Early songs like Do the du or their cover of Shack up are fast and furious, but they are limber and bouncy too. The other side of their coin was the miserabilism that Manchester specialised in at the time--they had the deepvoiced singer and the gloomy feel too, particularly on big clunky numbers like Flight. I don't know the story of their singer, but I know that he chipped after a couple of albums, and they ended up with their bassist taking over, which all sounds rather familiar, but had a spell of making much deeper, much more funky, largely instrumental albums, of which Sextet is probably the best (although Sextet can hardly be called instrumental because it features a female voice, whose I don't know, the voice is more colour than anything else).

The centrepiece of ACR's sound then, and throughout their career, has been Jeremy Kerr's bass playing, pinned ultratightly to Donald Johnson's drums. On a song like Day one, a personal favourite, they are rocksolid. I could listen to the rhythm section alone, it is that good. Add in the piano and wahwah guitar, and it's as good an example of early 80s funkpunk as you're going to get. If you like this sort of thing, you are in for a treat after the breakdown, as the wailing horns kick in and the song floats off into the aether.


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