Scritti Politti - White Bread Black Beer
I know I shouldn't moan too much about getting free CD's, but hopefully you'll see things from my perspective. Richard gets the new Scott Walker album to review. Luke gets The Raconteurs for goodness sake. And I get sent the new Scritti Politti album. Both Luke and Rich have written pretty excellent, glowing reviews of albums that have blown them away, and I got ... well, I think you are starting to see my point.
This isn't though actually my first foray into the world of Green Garside. Somewhere deep in my record box is a 7" vinyl copy of The Sweetest Girl, purchased when I was a kid back in 1985. Scritti Politti have been around on and off for nearly 30 years, enjoying critical (but rarely commercial) success back in the 80's before the group was disbanded due to Garside falling ill. It returned, as a solo project, with the release of Anomie & Bonhomie in 1999, and now this album, curiously titled White Bread Black Beer.
Recorded alone in the back room of his Hackney residence, it is a stripped, loose album, some songs featuring the minimum of arrangement and instrumentation. Opening track The Boom Boom Bap opens slowly, developing out of loose expressions sung by Garside, with a squelchy keyboard bass and a tip-tap drum. This song is a good representation of the sound of the album, flitting between the sound of a full band and then back to the intimacy of Garside alone in his flat.
The trouble is, too much of this album sounds like Green sat on his bed tapping on his Casio. The keyboard sounds are old fashioned, the drum patterns very generic sounding and dull. The voice though remains very special - rich and emotive, full of reverb and soul. Snow in Sun, one of the better tracks, shows this to full effect, also benefiting from a gentle guitar.
The songs that work best are the ones that most utilize "real" instruments rather than using tired old keyboard pre-sets. Road to No Regret has a light, country vibe to it and sounds very good indeed, a laid back piece of music with a lot of charm. But songs like Throw and Petrococadollar, where the keyboards come out of the loft, really suffer from the production, sounding old and just a little bit dull.
Low spot of the album though is E Eleventh Nuts, which is a piece of nonsense, full of predictable drum patterns, maybe evidence that there is an off licence near to his Hackney flat. Far better is Cooking, mostly just Garside and an acoustic, before opening out into a fine track that has some marvellous electric guitar. Mrs Hughes is also good, a little on the long side, but full of good ideas and some good lyrics.
Too many of these songs sound similar though, which means for a rather boring listening experience. The sugary voice also loses its appeal after a while. I am sure Scritti Politti fans are delighted at his return, especially as after all this years he is performing live again. On the whole though, this is mostly a rather dull, old-fashioned album, with a few bright spots that occur with not enough frequency.