If there’s something worth salvaging from the cultural atrocity exhibition of the early-’80s, it’s the memory of the theorists getting to grips with the charts: the bogus if fascinating concept of pure pop. At a time when postmodernism seemed a fizzy intellectual thrill rather than merely inescapable, [a]ABC[/a] may have been the most celebrated bright young things, but the most talented were Green Gartside‘s [a]Scritti Politti[/a].
[I][a]Scritti Politti[/a][/I]. Named after a Gramsci book, wrote a song about Derrida, had hits that somehow combined Marxist aesthetic rhetoric and glamorous me-decade aspiration. Embraced semiotics and skanking, coyly. How tremendously un-’90s. Eleven years after the last album, and a mere eight since the last single (The Beatles‘ ‘She’s A Woman’, done dancehall-style with Shabba Ranks, surreally), however, and Gartside has returned with an album as glossy, eccentric and beguiling as he’s ever made.
It’s fortunate notions of authenticity have never remotely troubled the Scritti vision. Otherwise, a flash pop album infused with deeply ‘street’ hip-hop and, yep, grunge influences made by a 40-something Welsh recluse would be ludicrously deluded. Instead, Gartside has hammered the contemporary (fearsomely hip Rawkus rapper Mos Def is all over the album) and almost-contemporary into his own image. So the likes of ‘Tinseltown To The Boogiedown’ and ‘Die Alone’ see Scritti effectively sampling themselves, Gartside‘s prissy helium vocals – an acquired taste, it’s fair to say – looped on the choruses, leaving his expensively-assembled team of rappers to freestyle the rest of the song. Like Puffy Combs had written ‘Every Breath You Take’ as well as ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, in essence.
One suspects there’s a serious point about the commodification and appropriation of ‘the song’ being made here, but beyond the brainy flourish of ‘Anomie & Bonhomie’‘s title, Gartside‘s customary trickery with the emotional currency of pop is pretty much buried. Buried, in fact, beneath guitars as well as rappers, hence ‘Here Come July’, a terrific, albeit incongruous, hurtle down the same road as the Foo Fighters‘ ‘This Is A Call’. Two fine ballads provide more familiar breathy sustenance: ‘First Goodbye’, tangled seductively round a Spanish guitar shiver, will have George Michael foaming with jealousy; while ‘Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder’ has that Bacharach and Barry-esque gushing elegance so many less artful chancers have tried to harness over the last few years.
A bit of a class act, then, even now. We await his drill’n’bass AOR odyssey come 2010 with interest.