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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[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: