Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Beauty and the Beast: Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985) - Scritti Politti

Many from my generation will probably be wondering who the hell Scritti Politti is, let alone his lone hit album Cupid & Psyche 85, but let me start by saying that this is a dynamite record, especially since it is one predominantly recorded on a synthesizer - albeit a very state-of-the-art one for 1985! One thing is for certain, and that is that this would be one of those albums I would cart off to my desert island exile should I ever be consigned there. 
Let’s start with a bit of back story though. Scritti Politti is basically the pseudonym of Gramsci (Italian Marxist philosopher) obsessed student Green Gartside, a one time art student who formed the group whilst studying in Leeds. A minor indie hit, ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’ on the burgeoning lable ‘Rough Trade’ soon came to the band in the late 70s and spawned an early eighties release Songs to Remember (1981) which appealing to new wave fans of the time. Then nothing...

There was not a sausage or squeak from Scritti for four years until the album under review, by which time Gartside (on his tod) had joined forces with programmer David Gamson, harnessing the fresh pop licks of the the mid-80s and combining it the sensibilities of Electronica to make for a veritable aural feast! 

Ironically it was as student at Leeds that I discovered the magic of this album as, bored on a Sunday afternoon, I took it down from the music bank in the Edward Boyle Library and listened to it on one of the institution’s functional DVD players. Needless to say I wasn’t filled with confidence by the album cover nor much else I had read about the band but I was in an open frame of mind - after all had this fellow not also received his education from the same fine bastion of learning? I’m so glad I did, from the first echo-reverbed drum roll of ‘The Word Girl (Flesh & Blood)’ I was hooked!

Coupled with the very catchy keyboard and drum machine licks, Cupid & Psyche 85 captures Scritti Politti (Gartside) at his lyrical best, seeing him using bizarre word constructs and abstract metaphors to deliver a concept album examining the intricacies of romantic relationships: The love, lust, power, deception, corruption and lies. Even at the darkest moments the album is eminently danceable and I would defy any listener not to find at least one tune on this album that did not get their feet tapping to the Gartside grooves! 

Listening to songs such as ‘Small Talk’  and ‘Absolute’ make you think of a grooving dancefloor in another time with their catchy keyboard riffs and overdriven guitar hooks. But it is Gartside’s acerbic and incessant vocals that really cut through the sheen to make these as ironic as they are enjoyable. The former (Small Talk) is a biting critique about sharing relationship issues with other people, and it both is served and amusingly undermined by the upbeat backing music - much like Phil Collin’s 1982 track ‘I cannot believe it’s true’. 

There are two standout tracks which I will draw attention to. The first is ‘Perfect Way’, a song which should have been much more of a hit than it was - hey, Miles Davis liked it so much he covered it! Capturing Gartside at his most acerbic. Singing about the unreasonable nature of his partner and how he cannot meet their expectations, 'Perfect Way' has some of the finest lyric around: 

‘I took a day, check amendment, I took a liking to you
I took a page out of my rulebook for you. 
You wanna message a confession, you wanna martyr me too
You wanna margin of error for two...’

Just one example of why this is more than just a pleasant listen, it has a bit of profundity - not something you often find in blog!

The other great tune and a deserved hit is the dance classic ‘Wood Beez’, playing to Gartside’s love of word play. A straightforward love song set to a very funky, danceable riff and dynamic drum machines, this really does capture the 80s at its zenith! Produced by the legend that was the late Arif Mardin it’s a flawless track which lets Gartside’s idiosyncratic, trance-like vocals come to the fore. I would also recommend a look at the bizarre music video which couples with this song, a precursor for New Order’s ‘True Faith’ perhaps? 

I could wax every more lyrical with more pomposity, much the same way this album struts around the speakers like an musical peacock, but I tire of lavishing such rich praise and now merely urge you to purchase this fantastic album for your collection.......9/10! 

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