Friday, April 01, 2011

Absolute by Scritti Politti

When, in the early 1980s, Scritti Politti shifted from earnest agitprop politicos to purveyors of hyper-commercial pop, heads were scratched. Was former squat-dwelling Communist Green Gartside intent on subverting the genre or had he been wholly seduced by it? Who knows? What became increasingly clear is that soul, funk, reggae and hip-hop would be the vital components that would inform and inflect Scritti Politti's future pop musical output.

Absolute is a timely reminder of what a fine songwriter Green Gartside actually became. I'd forgotten just how good songs like Asylums in Jerusalem, The Word Girl and Tinseltown to the Boogiedown are. Jacques Derrida (always my favourite SP track) sounds nothing less than extraordinary today. Name dropping a hip French philosopher and an Italian Socialist newspaper (Avanti!) into a ditty that veers from Simon and Garfunkel sweetness to bolshy hip-hop is indeed bravura.

Other tracks sound better than ever. Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry for Loverboy) - much loved, as I recall, by shop girls and hairdressers - left me completely cold at the time of its release, but how wrong I was. It's a pop masterpiece. Shop girls and hairdressers, of course, have always been THE most discerning and astute of pop musical critics. Another revelation is Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder, a finely polished soulful ballad which Michael Jackson himself would have been proud of.

Green's voice on this collection is fascinating. Skank Bloc Bologna, the only relic here of Scritti Politti's pre-pop incarnation, has him singing in an angsty David Bowie-style mockney accent. It demonstrates that his later Americanised and feminised vocal delivery was certainly an entirely calculated choice. At times Green sounds uncannily like Michael Jackson, including on the two new tracks, A Day Late and A Dollar Short, and A Place We Both Belong - both excellent by the way.

Other high points include meaningful cameos from Robert Wyatt on The "Sweetest Girl" and Miles Davis on Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry for Loverboy). Absolute - a collection of the words and music of Scritti Politti – is an excellent summation of Green Gartside’s musical career and is out now on Virgin Records.