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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[2] Scritti Politti, ‘Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)’

I asked Junior to type up her own comment on this and got “bvgyijuhh”, and my glasses stolen for good measure. Green Gartside would’ve deconstructed this, intertextualised it, restructuralised it and turned it into a shimmering pop tune, glossy surfaces and candyfloss heart belying the cold intellectualism.

I reckon that’s what he did with ‘Wood Beez’. It doesn’t mean much but it sounds clever. What it is is the most brilliant white funk track to come out of the decade, zipping along a skyway of scratchy guitars and keyboard flashes, loosening ever more until he’s exchanging shouts of “schizo” with the backing vocalists and just keeping from breaking down before the last chorus.

I finally caught his disguise show a couple of weeks ago – under the name Double G & the Traitorous 3 (Plus 2), he’s playing his first gigs for 25 years or so – and it was brilliant, of course. He seems to be treating the gigs as rehearsals for the new album (the fifth in those 25 years), which sounds like something to get excited about already. Two more shows at the Luminaire in March, pop fans.

Scritti Politti, ‘The Word Girl’

You can call them Double G & the Traitorous Three (plus two). This is a timely indulgence, because I found out on Sunday that Green Gartside played his first gig in 20 plus years the previous night, in a pub in Brixton and under that assumed name. I reckon Junior’s mum would’ve let me go, if I’d known. Drat. On the upside, there will be more gigs and a new album to boot. It’s only been six years since the last record, so he’s clearly on turbo thrust now.

This is the first record I played today, on Junior’s half-birthday. A typically Scritti meditation on the meaning of words and their “abuse”, and the warmest dubby sound. Now, I’m never going to find fault in any of their work, and Junior seems no different. She windmills her arms, smiles and blows an appreciative raspberry. There’s no more reliable indicator of baby satisfaction. She seems comfortable in her six months, and in the breezy lovers’ rock flow.

I bought the Cupid & Psyche 85 album with the five pounds a lady gave me when I foiled the theft of her handbag. I was a 13-year-old vigilante warrior. I bought it on cassette, the cassette got chewed up; I replaced the cassette, this also got chewed up. Exasperated, I swapped this for the LP. And a couple of years back, I bought it on CD. That’s dedication.