Scritti Politti, ‘Day Late And A Dollar Short’

Green Gartside

Absolute, the new Scritti Politti best of, begins with the hits, modest on both sides of the Atlantic but big enough, for Green Gartside, to constitute a harrowing commercial breakthrough that meant Top Of The Pops appearances, attention fit for a popstar and – rather more welcome – acceptance from the sort of R&B legends he was loosely trying to ape. These first five songs came from Cupid & Psyche 85, an impossibly precise marriage of perfect pop and blue-eyed soul which opened unexpected doors: notably, the chance to write for Chaka Khan and the odd sensation of seeing Miles Davis first cover one of your songs then, gloriously, guest on one.

My early acquaintance with Scritti was intertwined with the law. I bought Cupid & Psyche 85 with the five pounds (five pounds!) I was given as a reward for clocking the numberplate of a thief making off with a local lady’s handbag. Three years later, I was loudly anticipating Provision at a party – quite the conversationalist, me – as the police turned up to suggest the houses nearby might not enjoy us having a bonfire, draining the EEC cider lake and smoking freight-loads of cigarettes in the field right behind them. They might have softened if they’d known how excited I was about Provision.

Moving on, the 90s dawned with ‘She’s A Woman’, an unexpected collaboration with Shabba Ranks that dumped all Green’s philosophical lexicographical automatic hydromatic games with the word “girl” (i.e. ‘The Word ‘Girl”, ‘The ‘Sweetest Girl”) to go distinctly non-meta with a Beatles cover. It was a blip, in design and chronology, as the man decamped to Wales and hunkered down in beer and darts for a decade before popping up with the candy-pop-meets-hip-hop semi-success of Anomie & Bonhomie, where Green sparred sweetly with Mos Def, Lee Majors et al and generally affirmed some B-Boy credentials. Here it’s reprazented by three of the form plus the gorgeous ‘Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder’ that harks back to perfect pop and shines a light on the harmonic dreaminess to come – again – many years later.

That return was White Bread, Black Beer, a curveball Mercury nomination that emerged slowly and shyly in 2006 as Green stepped onto a stage for the first time in quarter of a century under the playful Double G & The Traitorous 3 (Plus 2) sobriquet, to focus group the songs first in a Brixton pub, then in a quasi-residence at The Luminaire. The law butted in again, rather closer to home this time, as I was told I couldn’t abandon my baby daughter to go to Brixton, but I made it to the Luminaire a couple of times to watch these songs jump off the page – truly, from Green’s own music stand. None of WBBB makes it here, likely because of its Rough Trade release; but from before my time, we do get three from Songs To Remember (but no ‘Faithless’…) and the fidgety, complex and in this company surly ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’.

And that’s it – apart from two new songs, the ballad ‘A Place We Both Belong’ and this. I’m not sure how new they are, but for Scrittologists they’re exciting enough for being hook-ups with long-time/occasional SP man David Gamson, not seen since 1999’s Anomie & Bonhomie. ‘Day Late And A Dollar Short’ bounces on squelchy bass, teasing a funk from somewhere on the Scritti timeline between 99 and 06, and a chorus that rises and falls with customary pizzazz and – let’s remember what this blog is meant to be about – makes Junior do the hand jive. According to her, it’s “fun”, Which is a bit of a bloody relief because I haven’t half wasted enough time and text on it.

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[15] Groove Armada, ‘Song 4 Mutya’

Groove Armada, ‘Song 4 Mutya’

Even the irredeemably naff can be saved by the right muse – and po-faced bundle of pop aggression Mutya Buena must be the right muse for anyone. Up until this point, Groove Armada had only shown a facility for grindingly predictable beats, rubbish gimmicks, chill-out mogadon and anaemic tunes, but Mutya awoke some deep-buried wit and invention, and a great dance-pop hit was born.
 
Splashy, fizzing synths (think DeBarge, think Chaka Khan, think Scritti Politti’s ‘Wood Beez’ and all that) give the music its zip and Mutya’s Catherine-Tate-a-like Jafaican drawl (“Ah feel fine. What about you? I betcha been crayin’, I betcha been goin’ around town layin’”, if you catch my drift) gives it attitood, while the Armada boys themselves (I picture them as a dull Adam and Joe) provide a glorious, catchy chorus to cement the song’s place in the year’s Top 20. Just a touch more bass would’ve put it even higher.
 
“Is that who has replaced me? What a diss!” had the conspiracy theorists rubbing their hands at a perceived smack at Amelle Berrabah, the beleaguered new Sugababe, but it was just a scorned ex-girlfriend type of thing. Probably. Anyway, the biggest “diss” came from Junior, who turned the CD player off after a few bars. At the second attempt she offered some headbanging to the chunky beats, but the moment had passed.

[6] Chaka Khan, ‘I Feel For You’

I see the lilac lothario is flavour of the month again after last week’s Brits performance. It was pretty good, yeah, but it doesn’t take a superhuman effort to make the Kaiser Chiefs and Coldplay look ordinary. What a disgrace those awards are. What exactly are they rewarding? Marketing campaigns, that’s what. I mean, no one’s bought that Jack Johnson album, but we’ve all seen it advertised a million flipping times.

Anyway, back to Prince. I’m making a big deal of his writing credit here because I feel a bit guilty about ‘When Doves Cry’ not being in this chart. No, I don’t know why either. Chaka’s performance is great, but it’s the song and the Melle Mel rap that make the record.

I’m also a big fan of the abstract drawing of a slimline soul diva on the single cover, a world away from cuddly Chaka. Junior squealed at the song, bouncing up and down on her baby booty.