Various - Sherwood At The Controls 1979-1984

by Rob Taylor Rating:6 Release Date:2015-04-06

Adrian Sherwood is acclaimed for mixing traditional reggae forms, electronic dub, post-punk, funk and electronic music onto a template which holds true to the dub format. He earned the ‘legendary’ tag, especially in Europe, by virtue of the quality of various individual productions on his On-U imprint. So, how does quality assurance equate on Sherwood At the Controls 1979-1984, given that some of those very productions are showcased here ?

Sherwood At the Controls 1979-1984 is representative of Sherwood’s legacy within the constraints of the time period selected. Early discussions about the set-list had vinyl collectors slabbering over details, particularly as two of the selections here, those of Prince Far I and Congo Ashanti Roy, are first release, and more are first re-issue.

However, the tale of Sherwood At the Controls 1979-1984 is somewhat more complicated that it appears as a press release. Firstly, some of the music here hasn’t dated well, some deserves trimming, and overall, despite the promise of the legend, it's the ‘purest’ straight and electronic dub mixes that work best.

Medium Medium’s 'Hungry, So Angry' sounds like funked up Talking Heads, a signpost for diversity, if not a great opener. The sparse and cavernous dub of Maximum Joy’s ‘Let It Take You There’ almost collapses under the weight of its inertia, and for me it was six minutes of monotony.

Things don’t improve with Nadjma’s ‘Some Day My Caliph Will Come’, with its Middle Eastern sounds, and vocal exaltations a pale imitation of Natacha Atlas. The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart is sorely misrepresented by a track that is a load of dubby nothing, and a vocal which includes the words docile and restrained. Says it all.

Things improve appreciably from there as we amble on to The Fall’s ‘Middle Mass’, a good Sherwood produced track from their 1981 Slates EP. Does it really belong in this mix? Well, it depends, I suppose, on how liberally you apply your incredulity.

Gardening by Moonlight's 'Strange Clues' is a great slab of electro-funk and the most successful track thus far, at least until The Slits track ‘Man Next Door’ rescues proceedings with a desperately needed vocal performance. Most people will remember this standout track as covered by Massive Attack on Mezzanine, but the original performer was John Holt, and either of those performances are preferable, unfortunately.

Annie Anxiety was a label chanteuse who worked with many artists on the On-U Sound roster. Her breathless voice is comparable to Nico, but without the teutonic glibness. Her track, 'Third Gear Kills', chokes with personal damnation; the lyrics suggest a protagonist with a deathwish, the music quite is interesting, with toy synthesiser flourishes, and some unsettling bongo drums. That post-punk storyboards are so vastly different to dub/reggae ones highlights the programming oddities of At The Controls, but moving right along...

The Prince Far I track, ‘Nuclear Weapon’, contains a repetitious, though commanding vocal, with signature muted horns that sound like they’re playing in the next room, and reverberating through the building. It settles into a nice groove, a much chunkier dub more deserving of prolonged concentration.

The last three tracks would make a great EP. While I think many might disagree with my assessment of the earlier tracks, the last three in my view are proper testament of Sherwood’s service to dub music generally.

Singers and Players (a collective of On-U Sound artists) settle into a traditional ragga with a warping bass rhythm that dances around the vocal, and a nice vibe. African Head Charge were a psychedelic dub ensemble from the early 1980s that included Jah Wobble amongst others, and his influence can be heard on the rumbling and bouncing bassline here.

Vivian Goldman’s ‘Private Armies Dub’ is a fabulous closer from the new wave artist and writer: a motorik rhythm, drum-machine giving off shots of fire, circular tambourine-style percussion, echoey dub effects. Goldman’s vocals enter at 2:45 as singspiel, quickly dropping out for an abrupt end.

Sherwood At the Controls 1979-1984 has some great tracks but, overall, the selections might leave you scratching your head.

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