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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[9] Bill Withers, ‘Lean On Me’

Bill Withers

As regular readers of Jukebox Junior know, I often find myself wondering, “What would Green Gartside say?” Today, I was listening to ‘Lean On Me’ and noticing how Withers’ vocal melody slavishly follows each note of the verse, and it reminded me of the Scritti Politti brainiac’s criticism of Arcade Fire: “The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes.”* Now, I know this isn’t exactly the same, but, well, what would Green Gartside say, I wonder?

I find those verses tentative, as if Bill’s shy about offering his shoulder. It’s sweet. This could get bogged down in sentimentality, but over all ‘Lean On Me’ feels sincere. It’s anthemic without showiness.

What would Junior say? “10 out of 10. And 10 out of 10 for the Cheerios too.” She’s seen too many Come Dine With Mes.

*From this Guardian piece.

[26] Hot Chip, ‘Over And Over’

Over And Over

Sometimes I think I’m in a minority of 1. Hot Chip are music press darlings with a fiercely loyal following at odds with their mild music. They should be one of my favourites – ticking boxes from synth-pop devotees to mates of Green Gartside – but I think they’re just a bit weak. Short on robust tunes, long on prissy fannying about. No one agrees with me. Perhaps I’m empirically wrong.

But look, here’s ‘Over And Over’, matching ideas with execution, gallumphing along with real verve, weight and pure nonsense. It’s never even tiresome. You probably don’t agree with me.

Junior says: “Cool.” We valiantly try to sing along with words we don’t know during what musicologists refer to as “the middle bit”.

Best bit: That middle bit. With what sounds like a kazoo. Cool.

[5] Scritti Politti, ‘The ‘Sweetest Girl’’

Scritti Politti

I imagine 1981 was an exciting time for a properly sentient pop being. For me, everything was new yet everything was normal, but for the seasoned listener the sands were shifting – punk was gone, disco was (almost) gone, new wave was evolving, everyone had a synth and they were gonna use it. Who knew how it would all turn out? There were atrocities to come as the ‘80s took wing, but New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Phil Oakey, Arthur Baker and other visionaries showed technology could be handled with care and flair.

We find Green Gartside on the cusp, edging away from the dubness of early Scritti Politti singles to find a polished white soul sound wedged somewhere between lovers rock and dreamy new romanticism. Later his music would become so polished you could barely stop it slipping off the turntable, but there are still rough edges here: Robert Wyatt’s creepy, shimmering keys; mild echo and fizz; loose structure. Ever the philosopher, Green sings about the ‘sweetest girl’ through the prism of political theory – too detached to be romantic, too sweet to be dry.

Although there are still shouts for The Beatles from the back of the car, Junior concedes she likes the song, eventually asking me to turn it up. “Scritti Lippy” as she calls them – combining her twin passions of chapstick and not listening properly – can be a bit sticky for some, but she’s got a sweet tooth.

Politics is prior to the vagaries of science:

[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.