Twelve long years away and they've lost not a jot of their edge. This is no lazy retread; there's effortless Mancunian pop and the tautest funk remade anew. Buy.
“THIS album is a culmination of everything we’ve ever done,” says A Certain Ratio’s Jez Kerr. “We’ve got some real momentum at the moment.”
He’s talking about A Certain Ratio’s first album in 12 years, ACR Loco, which drops this week. Excited much?
You wouldn’t bet against a musician so steeped in the groove; A Certain Ratio have been splicing together the funk, new wave, soul, no wave and a myriad of other influences for what is it … 43 years now. Jeez.
Martin Moscrop is restless to get busy; move on, create, create, create. Yes, Mute have set the seal on their status with the inclusive retrospectives acr:set and ACR:BOX; but that’s over his shoulder now.
“We’ve done the 40-year celebration thing. It’s about the future now and where we’re going next,” he confirms.
“I feel like I’m 18 again.”
Such confidence isn’t a false premise. We looked at the single drop preceding new album ACR Loco, “Yo Yo Gi” – and it was sublime future funk, tight and insistent, playing with intriguing Japanese textures and still nodding to the Mancunian dance music legacy – there’s a little nod to A Guy Called Gerald in there for sure.
They’d been busy anyway, reimagining tracks for like minds, friends and associates; The Charlatans. Maps. Barry Adamson. And for ACR it’s not about a little lick here, a production finesse there; they want to be inside that tune, finding that funk itch, teasing the tune into a different space.
“The reworks were crucial,” says Donald Johnson. “They got us back in the studio and forced a union and a bond. They allowed us to start getting a groove again.”
Martin wholly concurs. “We love doing the reworks because it’s just us doing our thing,” he says. “The three of us jamming is really the basis of it all. Once you get that groove there’s no stopping us.”
It’s led to ACR’s first album of new material in 12 years. And by god are they tight and vital and vivacious on ACR Loco.
It all begins with “Friends Around Us”, bass confident and chorus-pedal strong; a sax plays around, before a vocal line drops. “What I think of you, what you think of me …” is the opening line. New-wave guitars ring and the sax curls. It’s very Factory. “All those you’ve ever known, all things you’ve ever seen …” It’s got a brimming fire; it sounds like a certain band, maybe Brotherhood era. Where we at? There’s a sense of a music held just in check. That’s until somewhere around the three-minute mark there’s a disorienting flutter of synth, and that bass lets loose, rock-solid, pinning the synth undulation and vocal to an intoxicating post-punk groove coming outta leftfield. There’s textures and ideas flying everywhere.
“Bouncy Bouncy” couldn’t be more aptly named. It begins with a faux preacher’s call to musical arms, before it …. well, yeah, bounces straight atcha on Rockit-style vocal filtering and a simple, effective exhortation to “let the rhythm take you … bouncy bouncy,” from the terribly missed Denise Johnson. She knows exactly how much cool the lines need; no grandstanding; the sweetest of trilled understatement.
“Yo Yo Gi” – named for a groovy suburb of the Japanese city of Shibuya, where ACR spent some in the months before the album; well, “Yo Yo Gi” is an absolute stormer. Right up in your musculature, the bass and the percussion crisp, tight, necessary and right in your marrow: I hear caps doffed gracefully to the Mancunian past in tiny textural nods here and there to 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, others. It joins Jaga Jazzist, Romare and others in forging a beautiful and insistent new funk form for the future. There’s whistles, synths, buried voices, all manner of limb-bewitching percussive sprinkling. Absolutely top form. It’s so taut; machine-polished to a micron’s tolerance. Of course, now all we need is a bloody dancefloor.
It runs of a piece with the following “Supafreak”. That electro vocoder, skeletal bass pops, a fine guest vocal choice in adopted Mancunian Gabe Gurnsey – a man who said in interview that he “needs the white noise of the motorway.” It acts in your soul as a deeper dive from “Yo Yo Gi”; wants to pull you into that dancefloor place where faces, senses blur; there’s sound and motion. Give up of yourself now. This funk has absolute intent and it’s easier not to fight. There’s too much rhythm, too much texture, too much excellence.
“Always In Love” drops the pace. Time to towel down from your repurposed northern soul holdall, bliss a moment, catch breath, with a sweet paean. It’s leftfield ecstasy pop with Manchester shot through its bones. “Family” takes a conscious lyricism and casts it against a spare slap-bass atmosphere, a plea for unity on which Denise Johnson absolutely flies. As the song opens out that bass gets snappily busy, synth delirium washes through.
Maria Uzor, one-half of neodisco outfit Sink Ya Teeth, is the perfect foil for the studious New York soul-funk wah-wah wow of “Get A Grip”. Check the staccato little riff which burrows into you with sweet teeth. It breaks, you breathe; it whirls you round again. “Maybe I’m in need of sunlight / Maybe we’re in need of sunlight” is the hook through the coda, in which guitars chop, a keyboard line holds everything steady, the beat pulses.
“Berlin” is another effortless Mancunian pop groove. It’s got the city in its bones; lyrical simplicity, guitar pop with an eye on what would move the nether end of Whitworth Street. Actually it’s quite dizzying how many ideas spin through the songs on ACR Loco – which isn’t to suggest in any way they haven’t got absolute control; more you’re aware of out of the corner of your eye they could cast these songs again and again in various lights, so many textures are there hinted at, interjected, sprinkled and just suggesting another sonic direction.
“What’s Wrong” – who is the resonant voice of air control, charting the course? It’s a track that lifts, that glides. Various official voices chatter back and forth. It’s the most soundtracky tune on the album, funk guitar atmospheres and a sense of massive space; nose against the terminal window.
ACR Loco wraps up in “Taxi Man”, which begins in drinking from the same cross-chatter of found voices, including that of Smiths’ drummer Mike Joyce; humanity out there communicating, as sets “Yo Yo Gi” whirring. From there it stems off into a very different world; it’s a song that sounds in love with what humanity can do, a cityscape seen fleetingly through a taxi window approaching sundown, all pink clouds, glimpsed streetcorner vignettes, thrumming snares and brass call and response. And then it slaps you as it gets tight. Brazilian bateria drumming takes you. If this album is going out, this song says, it’s going out damn hard, as the bateria mutates to include proper old-skool Hacienda acid house pulsing. It’s a leftfield anthem and one of the cleverest dance-oriented tunes you’ll hear all year. Along with “Yo Yo Gi”, of course.
Twelve long years away; and it’s a really complex comeback. They’ve always been a band absolutely brimming with rhythmic and textural ideas and by god they’ve lost not a jot of their edge. This is no lazy retread of a band blissed in middle age. It’s anxious, it’s urgent, it’s powerful. There’s the effortless Lancashire pop lineage, more housey moments, but it’s that trio of tracks “Yo Yo Gi”, “Supafreak” and closer “Taxi Guy”, when they take the tightest funk, upend it and make it jerk anew that you couldn’t wish for any more. Buy.
A Certain Ratio’s ACR Loco will be available on CD, cassette and limited edition coloured vinyl, the colour of which will be a randomly packed white, blue, red and turquoise, each colour of varying pressing numbers. Order yours via Mute, here.