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Tuesday 23 April 2024

It All Comes Down To This

A Certain Ratio's new album, It All Comes Down To This, came out last week. Piccadilly Records and the band arranged an album launch where if you bought the album from them, for an extra £2.00 you got a ticket for a gig at Soup, a 200 capacity club in the Northern Quarter with a Q and A with Martin, Jez and Donald followed by ACR playing the album in full. At a time when £2.00 won't even buy a half of lager in the Northern Quarter this seemed a no brainer as they say. 

The three long standing members of ACR have stripped back to a three piece for the album, their third since 2020, recorded with producer Dan Carey. Pulling the sound back to guitar, bass and drums plus Martin's trumpet has shifted the ACR sound again- they really do sound like a band re- energised, fired up, with something to say and the means to say it (thanks to the deal with Mute records). The Q and A is interesting and funny, with stories of drummer Donald practicing his skills as a young man in his front garden in Wythenshawe, and Rob Gretton giving him thumbs up or down when he passed by depending on whether he liked what he heard. Gretton would soon introduce Don to the drummer- less ACR and the band suddenly shifted from post- punk gloom to punk- funk. Asked who the best bassist in the band is (ACR gigs frequently see members swap instruments) all three say 'Viv', the youthful bassist they recruited last year to deputise for Jez (whose rheumatoid arthritis has forced him to stop playing the bass live. 

After the Q and A we get the album, played in full and in order, the ten songs already sounding like ACR live favourites. The opener and title track thumps in, led in by a rat- a- tat- tat drum intro and Martin's guitar, trebly and right up close,with urgent Jez's vocals. Martin's guitar and Jez's bass form the sound of the album- Donald's drums absolute on the beat, Jez's basslines deep and rubbery while Martin's guitars slide around, clanging and bright. Second song Keep It Real thunders in straight away, choppy guitar riff and freight train rhythms. 

The songs shoot past, both on record and at the gig, short, sharp bursts, transmissions from a band forty five years into a career and not content to rest or take it easy. Surfer Ticket rolls ominously, some of the early 80s Factory dread evident. God Knows echoes some of the poppier sound that they reached for at the end of the 80s, a melody line picked out on the guitar and some sweetly sung multi- tracked vocals from Jez. Out From Under seems to nod its head to Shack Up, their calling card, with staccato bass and chak chak chak guitar riff. Estate Kings is narrated by Don from behind the drumkit, a Manc noir reflection on growing up in M23. Final song of the album and the gig is Dorothy Says, a song inspired by the words of Dorothy Parker, Jez singing over a rolling groove and ringing guitar line, 'Well I've heard it said that beauty is only skin deep/ But ugly it goes clean to the bone', and later, 'I plan to die at the last possible minute/ I'm not myself I'm not really in it/ I can't seem to filter out the static/ And my self- doubt is automatic'. 

The album, the gig and the songs show there's plenty of life left in ACR, a group who've outlasted many of their contemporaries and are making new music more alive and more vital than the ones who have lasted the course. They're on tour from this week ending up back at Manchester's New Century Hall in mid- May (two days before my birthday incidentally) playing the album and then a second set of ACR classics, and if you can, I'd get out and go to see them. 


Khayem said...

Great review, Adam. I’m seeing ACR live in concert for the very first time next month. To say I’m looking forward to it grossly understates how excited I am!

Anonymous said...

I would call that a good day. - Brian

Walter said...

Another day, another same idea, Adam. Great piece of writing and I wish I could see them once live.