Friday, March 18, 2011

song of the week 12: scritti politti - overnite

Another of those greatest hits compilations we love so much saw the light of day this week. Hence another artist of yesteryear has been out and about doing the round of media interviews. Step forward, on this occasion, Green Gartside of Scritti Politti.

A couple of Scritti hits, "Wood Beez" and "The Word Girl", still get a regular airing on the likes of Magic FM but there's quite a bit more to the man and his music than this 1980s radio-friendly sheen. For one thing, his frequent references in both songs and interviews to 19th Century philosophical theory--the name of the band itself a homage to Gramsci--set him a fair way apart from his post-punk contemporaries.

He can still talk a good game these days, as testified by a couple of interesting tete-a-tetes broadcast last week respectively on the Guardian Music Weekly podcast and Radcliffe and Maconie's radio programme.

The Cupid & Psyche album of 1985 was the "one with the hits" but I'd argue that almost all his other albums are more interesting: Songs to Remember, his 1982 debut, is a bit clever-clever but has some good tunes nonetheless, like the lilting "Sweetest Girl", later covered by Madness. All these years later Green claims that he'd originally wanted Gregory Isaacs to sing it and Kraftwerk to play it. That would have been worth hearing.

It was a measure of the circles he moved in in the late eighties that the album following the hugely successful Cupid and Psyche, 1988's Provision, saw him hanging out with the likes of Miles Davis. Unlikely as it may seem, there were some similarities in the music of the two men during that period: they both made liberal use of studio techniques of the time--synthesizers, samples, drum loops and such like. (Difficult to believe in retrospect that in the eighties this would have been considered cutting edge.) The Scritti fanbase probably would have been attuned to expect as much but Davis's Tutu and Amandla albums (1986 and 1989 respectively) shocked and alienated many of his followers in the jazz community. His dalliances with artists with more of a "pop" sensibility--not only Green, but also the likes of Cyndi Lauper--didn't work in his favour either.

In all though, the "collaboration" extended only to a sum total of two tracks: on Tutu Davis covered Green's "Perfect Way" and on Provision he contributes an understated, almost apologetic, solo on the sublime Oh Patti.

As I say, the synth base of much of Provision make it a very dated sound to modern ears but if you can get past the 1980s keyboards I think there are some great songs on the album. It might be interesting to hear Gartside rework some of them with a more modern instrumentation. Can't see that happening though...

Enough already. Here's one of the less celebrated tracks:

P.S. Absolute--Scritti's greatest hits compilation--awaits your attention on Spotify


Anonymous said...

After loving Scritti Politti so much in the 80s, I just discovered the lovely, haunting track Overnite. I agree this song is begging to be updated ("unplugged" perhaps). What do you suppose it's about? It sounds almost like a lullaby but I know that can't be right. Thoughts?

Hoops Hooley said...

I don't want to dismissive of your question but to be honest I find that the whole idea of interpreting "meaning" from songs is a pretty thankless task. So many artists are hugely pretentious about their work in interviews and often attach a significance to particular songs which is barely reflected in the lyrics. Seems to me that many songs are just impressionistic ideas thrown together without much of a train of thought behind them. Many of my favourite artists write hugely opaque lyrics. It doesn't stop me enjoying their music though.

Dunno if that's much of an answer, sorry...