Album Review: A Certain Ratio - ACR Loco
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
The world is filled with soul-searching and reflecting. As the planet burns, viruses change ways of lives and politics finds itself in a state of flux, the scene is set for many to take stock of their lives and think about what next. That seems to be the case with A Certain Ratio.
Since 2018 and 2019 they released two compilations, including a 40th anniversary, career-spanning box set. It is easy to believe that these retrospective released could decide the direction of their newest recordings - indeed it would be interesting to know if the band listened to ACR:Set and ACR:Box in their entirety, realising that it was now the time to take that work as an influence and assemble their newest studio offering, ACR:Loco.
It's been 12 years since A Certain Ration released new material and there has been plenty of buzz circulating this release - and rightly so. With their tenth studio album, ACR produce a record that reflects themselves, while pulling on a range of historic and contemporary external influences, delivered in their iconic funked-up style.
The record opens with Friends Around Us with its slow-tempoed jazz-infused intro but it is the berimbau that steals the show, building gently as we are introduced to the album. The pace picks up and at around three and half minutes is notably doubled as we are led by some ace slap-bass and electronica. The main message, to 'love your friends', is repeated as the closing words before leading into Bouncy Bouncy. Again, the message is clear, 'brothers and sisters...we all need to come together to fight the greed'. Their reflection has not stopped at their back catalogue, but the state of society. This track is pure madness, hurling to the fore go-go and funk influences with gorgeous vocals from the much missed Denise Johnson. Put on your oversized suits and let the rhythm take you.
The production on Yo Yo Gi is something to behold, with Tokyo subways voice samples laid over a track that is fulled by acid-coated percussion. You can really hear the Spirit Dance inspiration in this, but forged to be relevant for a 2020 audience. That audience better be ready to hit the dance-floor with Superfreak, which bursts into life as you realise you are embarking on a nightclub adventure. The baseline on this is insane, skipping along, carrying its horns and the wonderful vocals from Gabe Gurnsey of Factory Floor. This is a disco-funk haven, sate in here on the sticky floor of the nightclub from the city outside. As we reach the halfway point ACR slow us down for ballad Always In Love, a love song that could be a film score. Delicately crafted with subtle electronica and an upbeat, soul lifting chorus. It’s a beautiful love song, striking you right in the heart. Your heart isn't giving a moment rest though, as it thuds in time with the sumptuous bass on Family, while the backing vocals, once again provided by Denise Johnson, are soul lifting - it left your reviewer weeping. ACR nail the lyrics as they return to their central theme of unity, stating ‘brothers and sisters we are family, one world united, love peace harmony’. We need that now more than ever. I am too much of a sucker when it comes to wah-wah, which Get A Grip provides in abundance on a track pulsating with Primal Scream/Stone Roses-esq sounds with the funk turned up to eleven, while vocals from Maria Uzor, borrowed from Sink Ya Teeth, are perfectly placed. This acts as the prelude to the most radio-friendly track on the album Berlin, which oozes synth-pop influences and, maybe I’m influenced by the title, sounds like a continental hit. A clear choice for a single with its elegant lyrics and musicianship.
As we reach the closing sections of the LP, we are greeted with What’s Wrong - certainly nothing when you lay air traffic control samples over your track. The intro is sinister, menacing even, reminiscent of a late-night walk through the city. Your heart is pumping, the adrenaline beginning to build. The vocals are haunting, interspersed with further samples repeatedly asking the title’s question. Caution when listening to this on your stroll home through a questionable neighbourhood after a night out. Inevitably the song funks up in the closing moments - it’s a thumping track. Closer Taxi Guy opens with whistles, synths and background noise. Where are we? What is going on? Is that a Sax? Yes…then BOOM the Brazilian drums burst into life. Acid Carnival! There are echoes of Dove’s infamous use of carnival sound samples midway through before the song explodes, shifting between parade party and acid house, jumping back and forth so naturally. This is one hell of an instrumental and an incredible way to close an album. It’s a remarkable track and one that summarises it all; the album, the band and their 40 year career. If this album was designed to showcase A Certain Ration's legacy, then this track manages it in just shy of seven minutes.