Manchester’s A Certain Ratio (ACR) was one of the first new wave-era outfits to use horns and other instruments to play a soulful brand of contemporary music that defied prevalent trends but proved significantly influential. The Graveyard cassette compiles ’79 material — half studio work produced by Martin Hannett, the rest live from their hometown’s famed Electric Ballroom. With the subsequent Do the Du, an exciting and original post-punk dance record that does ACR proud (check out “Shack Up” for the decay of modern social values), it seemed certain that ACR would quickly join Public Image in the vanguard of the new rock left.
The studied tedium of To Each…, however, snuffed the early promise, as the band buried itself in dreary rhythms and astonishing self-indulgence. Leader Simon Topping — he of the free-form trumpet that stamped songs like “The Fox” (here on a subdued remake from Do the Du) — evidently believed that ACR would fill the gap left by Joy Division. Unfortunately, while Joy Division was at least lyrical in its despair, A Certain Ratio is merely monotonous. Blown Away is a three-song 12-inch of non-LP blasts of horns and rhythms.
ACR relocated their energy on Sextet, but didn’t apply it in the right places. There’s no real focus to the discoid beats and wailing female vocals (Martha Tilson); ACR don’t seem especially motivated by the music they’re making. I’d Like to See You Again suffers from Tilson’s absence, and stumbles about, evincing self-consciousness and conservatism in place of the previously aggressive experimental attitude.
The Old and the New is a compilation, originally released with a bonus 45 of “Shack Up.”
ACR maintained a low profile after the early ’80s, but continued releasing new records. Force follows in the footsteps of I’d Like to See You Again, abandoning the raw, stark and chilling sound of the band’s seminal work. Professionally executed but completely boring and devoid of spontaneity, there’s little here that Chuck Mangione fans might not enjoy. Occasional sonic experimentation isn’t enough; the backwards bass on “Bootsy” and the odd drones of “Take Me Down” can’t mask the fact that the songs go nowhere.
Live in America is a basic greatest-hits run-through. The sound quality is amazingly good, but it has all the soul of a conservatory jazz ensemble playing from sheet music. The inclusion of cuts that sounded so great just half a decade earlier (“Shack Up,” “Knife Slits Water”) only serves to further degrade ACR’s reputation.