There has been a rush of albums released recently (and earlier this year), so many that it's been difficult to keep up- A Certain Ratio, Roisin Murphy, GLOK, Richard Norris, Rickard Javerling, Daniel Avery and Denise Johnson have all been competing for my listening time and I haven't got anywhere near new ones from Bob Mould, Doves and Thurston Moore. Earlier this year Steve Cobby released not one but two new albums and I'm still getting to know them. Andy Bell (Ride and GLOK not Erasure) has an album out at the end of this week. There's the nine track Unloved remix e.p. and umpteen singles and e.ps by a variety of artists. While this year has been grim in so many ways the amount of outstanding new music has been a flood. So, some album reviews to follow this week as I pick my way through the some of the above.
A Certain Ratio's new album, Loco, is a ten song record that is a near perfect summation of all their good qualities. It nods its hat repeatedly to their forty year history and past glories while also sounding fresh and like a band reborn. They kept their hands in with irregular gigging for much of the 21st century but the deal they signed with Mute has freed them from the day jobs and given them the freedom, the time and the space (and presumably the financial security) to write and record. The result is Loco, their first new album since 2008. I posted Yo Yo Gi in August, an 808 and cowbell led house workout, a dance song that takes 1990's Spirit Dance as its starting point and breaks out from there. On side one closer Always In Love Jez's vocals recall the A&M years of Your Blue Eyes and The Big E. Tony Quigley's sax riffs vividly point to the mid 80s funk years of Force. The guitar/ bass/ drums core of Martin Moscrop, Jez Kerr and Donald Johnson keep harking back to the group's past and Denise Johnson voice's adorns four songs, her appearance always a lead vocal more than a backing vocalist, and her tragic passing in between completing the record and its release is sad beyond words. The album's closing song Taxi Guy is a song developed live during the on and off tour they undertook in 2018 and 2019, whistles and drums and funk rhythms, Brazilian percussion and chants, a re-tooled Si Fermir O Grido.
But there's plenty on Loco to suggest ACR aren't stuck in their history- the driving bass and dense electro/ rock of Friends Around Us make for a strong opener, especially after the laid back first half of the song. There is overdriven guitar and funky bass on Supafreak with Factory Floor's Gabe Gurnsey on guest vocal and space age indie disco on Berlin, slightly kraut, slightly Factory but also very 2020. On Get A Grip there's another guest spot, a slinky guest vocal from Sink Ya Teeth's Maria Uzor over dense funk and wigged out synths. ACR were always a group for whom dance rhythms and the groove were primary obsessions, pioneers of what came to be known as punk- funk and still moving forward a decade later when the Hacienda was the centre of the story. This album adds plenty to their story with the gloom and ghostly funk of their early years now updated in vibrant 2020 style.