Album Review – “ACR:box” by A CERTAIN RATIO

The reissuing of their entire catalogue, releasing new pieces, and releasing this singles retrospective which includes 20 unreleased demos, remixes and unfinished pieces, sees a welcome resurgence in ACR.  Now on MUTE with their previous label mates, New Order, there feels to be a renewed interest in all things electro, 80s and Mancunian. As new light is cast onto those half-remembered nooks and crannies of the past, new eyes should be looking through the musical microscope as well as old eyes viewing with fresh perspective.

The 80s, in hindsight for me, was a far more creative period than I gave credit for. Leading that creative force was, arguably, the Northern powerhouse of Greater Manchester, with two flag bearers that were Tony Wilson individually and the Factory Crew as a whole.

Tony Wilson described ACR as “…the new Sex Pistols…”, and whilst not entirely obvious what he was alluding to, who could argue with any great conviction against the visionary. Perhaps he could have been likening them to the Pistols in terms of screw you contrarian attitude. Let’s be under no illusions, they weren’t a band that played the game in terms of doing what the ‘music business’ would require. Morphing from Post-Punk to Acid Jazz / Jazz / Latin through the course of their career it’s hard to know at what meta level they were playing the game and harder still to pigeon hole them.

So, here we have a 53-track monster of a box set. Opening with the early “All Night Party” and “The Thin Boys” with their very late ’79 single release with its, for obvious geographic reasons, minor key, lo-fi sound with heavy bass, Joy Divisionesque Post Punk. From there it is an instant morph into a drum and whistle groove B-side of their 80s 12” “Flight”, then back into glimmering and feedback layered Industrial Post-Punk. Now right away you can see the twist and turns through their career that you get to witness.

It would be an obvious plan for a label to be heavy on the A-sides, yet an unobvious label like Mute is only ever going to make a retrospective release so aurally pleasing whilst making the listener work for their enjoyment. If you are unaware of ACR then you are going to find yourself concentrating because tunes like these almost demand the listeners attention. If you know and approve of ACR then you already know what I mean. By the time you get to the band’s own proto-Dub Jazz styled “Funaezekea” then you have a feel for where this is taking you, but you can’t switch off. These are not throw away tracks… these are not background tunes.  You will want to concentrate on every turn in the road of this journey.

Following their branch into dub, and now as a six piece, they veer off the mainline again into Funkadelic/Parliament territory mixed with Latin Jazz grooves. Certainly not in the same ball park as the head nodding of other Indie bands of the time.  Now, rarely is slap bass acceptable, but here on 1982s “Knife Slits Water” / “Kether Hot Knives”, surely George Clinton and Bootsy Collins inspired, it is made not only acceptable but positively cool. The latter of the two tracks being a highlight among the many highlights of the whole affair.  It has everything; repetitive grooves, funk guitar a la Nile Rodgers, African hand drumming, Funkadelic weirdness and electro effects that subtly remind of that current groove band, Superorganism.     

Latter tracks on the boxset are finished and unfinished demos, remixes and unreleased tracks. I could go on with a track by track description as each track has its own personality, style, sound and feel. From the dance dub of the unreleased “It’s Trippin’ when I’m Fine”, through to Southern Latin techno affair “Samba 123”, and onwards to a Bernard Sumner collaboration, “Won’t Stop Loving You”, which has all the sound of a Belle and Sebastian track. 

The number of bands, songs and styles that have come after these tracks were recorded that I am now hearing as I listen to this boxset is truly incredible. To state the case that ACR are influencers would be an understatement no matter how well argued. I don’t think I can emphasise adequately enough just how good this boxset is. Even for the avid ACR fan there is enough here to make this a necessary addition to their collection.  

Trust me, provided you are someone who can appreciate the groove, jazz, dub, dance, ambient, Post-Punk, Samba, Santana, World Music, poly-rhythms, Latin, smooth soul, Acid-Jazz, Funk, Joy Division, PiL, New Order, early Industrial, Electro…. 

…Oh heck…. Just do yourself a favour and buy it will you!!!  It’s awesome!        


A Certain Ratio play The Crossing in Digbeth,  Saturday 9th November.

Reviewer: Mark Veitch


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