Scritti Politti

TrackAlbum / Single
The Word GirlCupid & Psyche 85
The "Sweetest Girl"Rough Trade single (1981)
Confidence4 A-Sides (12" 1979)
Tinseltown To The BoogiedownAnomie & Bonhomie
Lions After SlumberRough Trade single (B-side, 1981)
Flesh & BloodVirgin single (B-side, 1984)
A Slow SoulSongs To Remember
CookingWhite Bread Black Beer
OverniteProvision
Brushed With Oil, Dusted With PowderAnomie & Bonhomie

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Contributor: Denee Dean

It all starts with The Word Girl. As with most of my formative musical experiences, it existed on a 7″ belonging to my uncle. I was a little bemused before it ever made it to the turntable – a faded and heartbroken Shirley MacLaine on the cover, fragments, of ink and text and THAT NAME. Scritti Politti – clever and playful …

So, one day, after I was through with Orange Juice and The Smiths and Costello, I played it. It sounded almost like nothing, but like the sweetest little whispered nothings. However, so gentle and insistent and winningly melodic I needed to hear it again. And again and again until the hesitancy of the final few notes triggered that feeling that something so light and sweet had spun its way around my heart without me comprehending. And of course, the voice – it was still years before I first heard Green Gartside sing live and when I did it was just as unbelievable that someone could make such a flawless and pure sound. At first, I thought it was a beautiful fluke and it took me a long time to find the nerve to investigate other Scritti records.

However, instead of what I wished for, which was a catalogue of records as gorgeous and consistent as The Word Girl, I received the most wonderful surprises. Green’s philosophy and the evolution of the music he’s loved and been influenced by is better documented elsewhere (particularly by Simon Reynolds) but loving Scritti exposes you to lovely incongruities and unexpected corners. An album of the sweetest mellifluous, grooviest hip hop with Mos Def and Me’Shell Ndegeocello to the solipsistic lesson in narcissism of Lions After Slumber. You’ll find the gentle and honey hued Overnite with its fabulouly poptastic “… Tell us about it, Green” refrain, the luxuriously produced and sublimity of Cupid & Psyche 85, the embryonic and half formed confessional funk of Confidence – one of those moments before Green realised he wanted to (and could) sing like Michael Jackson and wrote a thesis deconstructing the perfect pop sound.

In total, there only a small handful of albums and sprinkled crumbs of collaborations and rarities to represent such a long career but I can’t truly bring myself to resent the lack of prolificacy of someone who surprises and delights me every time. And I can certainly endlessly admire a man who dares to place quotations around The “Sweetest Girl” with the assumption that we’ll be smart enough to know why.

 

Scritti Politti official website

Scritti Politti biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #240

3 Comments

  1. Rob Morgan
    Apr 1, 2014

    Excellent choices and an excellent write-up. You really capture the battle between the heart and the mind which has always been the root of Scritti Politti’s music. I’ll be heading back into their small but perfectly formed catalogue immediately! Bravo!

  2. Rick J Leach
    Apr 1, 2014

    A brilliant piece and echoes a lot of what I feel about Scritti; a band I have loved since their very early days. Great mixture of tracks as well. Look forward to reading more stuff from you!

    This piece below (and I apologise in advance for the length and rambling nature of it) is what I wrote about (coincidentally) Confidence in my book “Totally Shuffled – A Year of Listening to Music on a Broken iPod”

    Early Scritti Politti. 1979-1981. I loved them when they did this music. Self-financed, fiercely independent singles with densely argued post-Marxist, post Structuralist texts. (At that time, it would have been seen as significant to have labelled the records as “texts” rather than “singles”. Though as you handed over your couple of quid for a single you’d have looked a bit daft asking in Probe for Scritti Politti’s latest text). Squat-living Scritti Politti were so concerned about breaking down the barrier between “artist” and “audience” that they printed the total cost of production on the record sleeve for everyone to see-the whole financial cost – from the cost of the studio time, to mastering, to the cost of producing the label-in order to demystify the process. I loved the idea of this, but it didn’t take away the essential mystique of what-the-fuck were they going on about, or the beauty and mystique in singer Green Gartside’s Robert Wyatt-ish vocals. All their early recordings were eventually collated and released on a compilation CD in 2005, called, obviously, “Early”. For a long time, I only had these tracks scattered in a variety of media – this original 12” single, a few tapes of sessions recorded from John Peel shows and two tracks on a Rough Trade compilation vinyl album issued only in America. Ironically, when these were all put together on the CD that I’d wished for, some of the mystery seemed to have dissipated a little bit. Still, there’s something about these tracks that burns with fierce intelligence, depth, righteous anger and soul.

    In 1981 though Scritti Politti shifted a gear with the first track on a seminal compilation tape given away by the NME, C81. (I think – and this is so old-fashioned – that to get the free tape you had to cut out two coupons from consecutive editions of NME and post them off with your name and address. A week or so later the tape turned up in the post). The tape was great-Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire. It opened with a Scritti Politti track, The “Sweetest Girl”. Heavy political obscurity and arrhythmic angular guitars were banished and replaced with a bittersweet love song, full of melody and sadness. I had been looking forward to a repetition of the early stuff, but this was so off the wall, it was breathtaking. Over the next few months I waited eagerly for more new Scritti music in the same vein, but apart from a tantalising three track Peel session, it was a nearly a year until they released their first album, “Songs to Remember.” To tell the truth, it was a little disappointing. Whilst they had referenced Aretha soul in all their interviews as a major influence, I couldn’t see it wholly. It wasn’t quite there. Maybe it was because they’d signed for Rough Trade and still had a bit of an indie ethos.

    Their follow-up albums, “Cupid & Psyche ‘85” and “Provision”, on Virgin seemed to me, in the mid 80’s, much more like it. All sequencers, top-end session musicians and crystal clear high end sound. It was chrome and mirrors; flawless. It sounded like New York as opposed to Ladbroke Grove. It was a third change in direction for them-and one that for a long time I considered their best.

    Going back to listen to all this after a few years I thought I knew what I liked by Scritti Politti and what was their best work.

    Firstly, the two Virgin albums, then the early, brittle music and coming a bit behind, the slightly weak, neither fish nor fowl,”Songs to Remember”. Having too many fixed ideas is not a good thing. Today the Virgin albums seem a little bit of their time. The early music is great but I can see why they had to change – I recall that even Green Gartside felt that it had come to a natural conclusion. “Songs to Remember”, though is a revelation and much, much better than I remembered. It doesn’t sound like a halfway house anymore, but a strong record that’s the Ronseal of early 80’s music.

    It does what it says on the tin – Songs to Remember.

    Here’s a link to the e-book if you’re interested, or paperback.

  3. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 1, 2014

    What a great list.. I’ll be playing that one today.

    I think I’d have to include Asylums in Jerusalem, because I still remember my mate dropping the needle on his pristine copy of Songs To Remember back in the day, the first time I’d heard it, and what a revelation it was, having heard (but in truth not paid a great deal of attention to) the post-punk-y stuff the band had come up with before, and the slow realization over the next couple of years that we were hearing Green’s vision now, not a band.

    And Provision… I seem to recall it wasn’t well-received, even though it got a fair way up the charts. A terrific sound, though, and could be my second favourite Scritti album.

    And I should add… if you haven’t heard it already, track down Destroyer’s Kaputt album. If you’re a Green fan, I guarantee a smile or six.

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