Friday, May 26, 2006

The Slowest Band in All the World

I can't believe it - there's a new Scritti Politti album due out in the next few weeks. For anyone who loved music in the mid 1980s, Scritti Politti was synonymous with ecstatic pop and lyrics that required a degree in philosophy [and a weighty dictionary] to decipher. Songs like Wood Beez [Pray Like Aretha Franklin] and Perfect Way were huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Scritti main man Green Gartside was collaborating with the likes of Miles Davis and Chaka Khan. But the Scritti story had much humbler beginnings, starting with a post-punk agit-prop collective. Early songs like Skank Bloc Bologna were not your typical pop confections, more impossible tracks to dance with that secured the group a lot of headlines and attention from the redoubtable John Peel.

The first album, Songs to Remember, eventually appeared in 1982 on Rough Trade. The big breakthrough came with Cupid & Psyche '85 on the more mainstream Virgin label, followed by Provision in 1988. It was another 11 years before Green got off his Gartside and released Anomie and Bonhomie, an album besotted with rap and hip-hop. That alienated anyone old enough to remember Cupid & Psyche with fondness, but failed to secure a new audience. [There was also a run of hit singles in the early 90s, including collaborations with the likes of Shabba Ranks, but these are now very hard to find]. After the relative failure of Anomie and Bonhomie in 1999, Scritti Politti slid off the radar again, apparently relegated to being a mid 80s phenom, fodder for VH1 nostalgia weekends.

The comeback started last year with a return to Rough Trade and Early, a compilation of those hard to find singles and EPs from the late 70s and early 80s. Now Green Gartside returns with his first album of new material in ages, called White Bread, Black Beer. Can't say I'm not excited - think I'll drag out all my old Scritti CDs and load them into iTunes today. The band's not exactly prolific: counting the new material, Scritti has released five albums [and a compilation] in 28 years since the group's first single came out in 1978. That's not what you'd call a Calvinist work ethic by any stretch of the imagination. The only outfit to match that elephantine gestation tendency is The Blue Nile, another group that rose to prominence in 1985. They've managed four albums in 21 years - turtles beware.

Amazingly, both Scritti Politti and Blue Nile frontman Paul Buchanan are out on tour this summer. If you enjoy either band, it's probably your last chance to see them before Halley's Comet returns in 2062.

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