Friday, May 08, 2009

Scritti Politti 'White Bread Black Beer'

When I set this blog up I thought I would do more of this. Anyway, I bought another copy of White Bread Black Beer by Scritti Politti to give away as a present. I wrote this lot out in the time it took to write it (if you see what I mean - i.e. I did it quickly, straight off the top of me head) so the grammar and tenses sway a bit. However, it does convey some enthusiasm I think...

To be honest this album deserves proper research and information and putting into context and all that blather. However, I don’t have time for that. What I would like to tell you is that this is a GREAT, GREAT RECORD. I define that by the number of times I listen to it over time. This is one of those records that you like when you first hear it and have a little niggling urge to play again. Thing is that that urge didn’t start to fade until I got to about 60 complete listens. I put it on my MP3 player (a thing I’m a bit ambivalent about by the way) and just kept playing it – and I still want to keep listening to it! This puts it up there with the GREAT RECORDS that I’ve really loved over the years, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, various Beatles albums – the really great records of all time. More recently only the Shins Wincing the Night Away has done anything like this for me.

I remember reading years ago that Joni Mitchell album took a year to sink in and another year to appreciate. I think that this album also has some of that quality. Now it doesn’t actually sound like any of the people I’ve listed but it does mean that you don’t have to buy into any historical 1980s or Scritti Politti ‘place in pop history’ stuff to appreciate it - it just means it’s a great, great record.

OK, so after that some hints as to what it’s actually like. Well for a start you get a really gorgeous voice. High, even slightly androgynous, caressing even, smooth and perfect recorded to hear lip sounds (close to mike and compressed fact fans) and just great to listen to. The words are pop in a slightly twisted and fascinating way. You may not know exactly what a song is about but it’ll certainly sound like it’s about something - and its something interesting and pop but slightly dark, perhaps even very dark. Blood features a few times – feeding something or other blood from a spoon, a flag of blood and lipstick – and is that ‘bellywash blood’? – yuk! – But fabulous too. Darkness in pop is a very special thing when it’s done well – I mean what can ‘Touch me again and I’ll tell Mrs Hughes’ possibly be about? This is followed later in the song by ‘Tell me again and I’ll touch Mrs Hughes’. Thing is, I think I know what this might be about but can’t quite put it into words and it’s private so I’m not telling you anyway. If I knew exactly what it was about it might spoil it. The whole album allows you to interpret lyrics for yourself and kind of develop your own relationship with it - you only need the album – no photos of artist or interviews or context to persuade you why you like it, just the record itself in a world of its own and you in a world of your own with the record.

The songs are all great but often a bit fragmented (this is not a bad thing though it normally would be). One will start with some gorgeous Beach Boys like harmony which will stop and reappear later as if its part of the next song - which it actually might be – who cares!? The result is that 13 tracks sounds like around 30 – and for once this is a GOOD THING – there’s always another favourite moment coming up and the bit you’re listening to is likely to be a new favourite bit in another few listens. The music is home recorded. Again, this sounds like it might be a horrible amateur thing, but in fact it just means it’s a single unique vision. A lot of time must’ve been put into this. Like my Grandma’s buns – perfectly risen, perfectly mixed and with icing and a cherry on top. I haven’t really analysed the instrumentation but things occur as you go along – there are certainly acoustic guitars on there and there’s bass and some beat box type drums and probably a lot of the songs have no drums at all but who cares – if you’re eating the perfect bar of bitter sweet chocolate why bother to notice the exact percentage of cocoa butter?

So, this is pop – YEAH YEAH as XTC once said. Do yourself a favour and buy this record and listen to it a 1,000 times before you die. Put it up there with yer Beatles and Dylans and Mitchells if you’re me or alongside your own particular life enhancing / changing records.

I came to this record after hearing Stuart Maconie play a track on Radio 2. It was the single Snow in Sun and it sounded like slightly trippy, slightly fey modern psychedelia on first hearing. I thought I’d be buying something slightly twee but fun. In fact I got one of the best records I’ve hear in years.

This is an achingly good record. I’ve bought 3 copies so far so I can give them to people I know who deserve them and might appreciate them. A strange and beautiful thing!