A Certain Ratio - Force

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-11-24
A Certain Ratio - Force
A Certain Ratio - Force

There’s an old maxim: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Well, this album is six years on from A Certain Ratio’s initial Factory days. Bass player extraordinaire Jeremy Kerr said about the band’s 1986 release, “People have accepted this LP more readily than the others…Maybe it’s just taken people a long time to accept our music. What we do now is what we’ve always done.”

In this case. it seems the inverse is true: The more things stay the same, the more things change.

Now, there is no doubt, upon hearing the first notes of “Only Together” that this is an album by A Certain Ratio. The drum and bass of Donald Johnson and Jeremy Kerr are a dance step footprint worthy of any English post-punk walk of fame.

But things are different. Both singers, Simon Topping and Martha Tilson, are gone. Kerr steps to the mic and handles the lead vocals well. Any ghost of fellow Factory singer Ian Curtis is long gone. The doom and gloom of “Crippled Child” is certainly missing, too. The upbeat chorus of “Only Together” states, “Only together/Always together/We will discover/A reason for living.” This is almost hopeful stuff. And there is tenor and soprano sax player Anthony Quigley. He’s a marvel that civilizes this music in total contrast to the weird trumpet sound of the Factory albums. That’s not a bad thing at all. The guy is a great player who reminds me of Paul Winter. And his work permeates this record and truly rescues a pop tune like “And Then She Smiles.” The same is true for the keyboard work of Andrew Connell. He adds color to this music that livens the Manchester melancholy.

“Bootsy” is another gravity-defying tune. Kerr sings a duet with Corinne Drewery. Now, could have been really awful, but that’s the strange thing about this record: It succeeds on a commercial level, but the music is vindicated by the great, and at times, pleasantly weird playing.

China Crisis and Deacon Blue were able to do the same thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the band’s To Each… is a masterpiece of artist sound. But I have to fess up and state my tastes run to the more esoteric. This album has a crystal-clear production by Stuart James (who goes back to the early Manchester days). So, the angst is gone, but “Mickey Way” is so much fun to hear that I (almost) forget my personal need to wallow in depression and cry a lot.

And, you ask, “What about the guitar of Martin Moscrop?” Yeah, the guy’s playing has been the somewhat quiet lynchpin of the music right from the start. This is not a band of guitar solos. But listen to “Take Me Down,” which exemplifies the new sound. Sure, the song has a catchy “Come on Come on” chorus. The percussion/sax interplay is funky. Kerr’s bass is always up front. But it’s the guitar that provides the depth and the rock ‘n’ roll street credibility. You know, I’ve written three album reviews for A Certain Ratio, and I have never even mentioned Martin. 

So please consider the situation confessed and corrected.

Two songs, “Anthem” and “Nostromo a Go Go,” stretch the music into a different orbit. Any misgivings about the initial “Only Together” new age Trumpian Republican love fest, are gone. “Anthem” is moody and atmospheric. This is beautiful stuff. Now, “Nostromo” is simply a wonderful tune that is a direct descendent of the esoteric music of To Each…. Except it’s a lot more fun. This may actually be fusion. I find fusion boring. But this song simply rocks with funk, rock, electronics, incredible bass, and Donald Johnson’s amazing drumming. This is the timeless music of A Certain Ratio.

The seven plus minute “Si Firmi O Grido” is an exercise in world music…South American style. It’s all very nice with ample energy, a whistle blows here and there, hands clap, the drumming is wonderful, some whoops fill the air; but ultimately, it doesn’t have the originality of the rest of the record. However, it’s still pretty cool to have this music on an album that, like I said, has a lot of commercial viability. And, quite frankly, it beats the hell out of platinum selling Phil Collins’ Genesis with Tower of Power “No Reply at All” horns and  the band's own stab at world music, “The Brazilian.”

This album punches at the air. And it’s a very clear funky punch. Sure, the days of strange artistic sounds have morphed into a bit more commercial groove. But there is still a deep soul in this record. So, I think Jeremy Kerr is right. This is, indeed, “what we have always done.” It’s just that A Certain Ratio always changed things; they upset the apple cart; perhaps, they even took a bite of the forbidden fruit. And yeah, as that old maxim says: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or something like that.

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