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Melodic Records

A Certain Ratio – Live in America 1985

A Certain Ratio – Live in America 1985

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A Certain Ratio. The name even sounds suitably eccentric. Very un-rock’n’roll. Very non-punk. The name comes from a Brian Eno song. ACR always did stand a little apart from punk’s snot and Hepatitis B merchants.

This is the first release on Melodic’s Re-issues label. The label currently infamous for it’s mainly folktronic output and the debut single by the Nine Black Alps last year. Label boss David Cooper explains, ‘I’d always had this idea of putting out some of my favourite records from when I was younger. It’s funny cos I’ve been digging out certain records and some of them sound terrible now but others still sound great and are so relevant now.’ Which certainly rings true with A Certain Ratio, ‘Live In America was an album me and my friends had around 86-87. Everyone in Manchester seemed to have this record and it’s definitely the one live album in my collection I’ve played more than any other.’

Live In America 1985 was recorded on cassette during an American tour during the summer of 1985. A Certain Ratio were supporting New Order on a series of East Coast and Canadian dates. This then is a compilation of the best versions of each song, a raw compendium that draws on each era of their recording career from The Fox to Si Firmir O Grido.

This captures them at an almost perfect intersection. When they were weird enough to be interesting, loose enough to be groovy, but tight enough to be hot; like their version of Touch, liberated from its original tempo, sounds like Motorik clav-funk, while the lyrics, almost a pastiche of feel-good disco, keep it earthbound.

Throughout the set, Johnson’s drumming is just so. There’s none of the bombast of the fussy rock player, just working the snare and kick and driving things forward like a cosmic trucker, aided only by judicious use of reverb on songs like Knife Slits Water.

There’s a certain transcendence that groups strive for but rarely achieve. ‘There are times when we have these magical moments, where we’re all thinking the same thing, without talking to each other about it, without discussing it,’ says drummer Johnson. ‘It’s a cerebral link and a vibe that we’ve all got but we’re not talking about we’re just all on it.’

When they chose to cover Shack Up the match was so perfect, it was hard to imagine that they hadn’t written it themselves. It was a statement of intent, a dancefloor manifesto, a road map pointing this way, a scratchy funk bomb. It even penetrated the Billboard disco charts, an unlikely outcome for fifty quidsworth of studio time. ‘We were listening to American funk and trying to play it,’ says Jez Kerr, ‘But the only one who could was our drummer really, which was good, because the stuff on top was sort of weirder.’ It was as ill-fitting as those khaki fatigues and as beautifully effective.

The album comes beautifully packaged with a reproduction of the original artwork from the cassette version that was sold at gigs. Sleeve notes come from Bill Brewster and check inside for a reproduction of a flyer from one of their early shows in New York in 1981. Check who the supporting act is – only some other (lesser) star of New York disco at the time (Madonna).

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