ACR: Box

by: A Certain Ratio

During A Certain Ratio's 40th year, Mute Records finished their comprehensive reissue program of the Manchester band's catalog with this boxed set. A delight for devout listeners but not without some essentials and rarities that surpass many an album cut, ACR: Box thoughtfully avoids repeating anything selected for the highlights overview ACR: Set and duplicates only a small quantity from the straightforward 2017-2018 album reissues. Almost evenly split between vintage and previously unreleased material, Box leads with the former. It begins with both sides of the astringent debut single for Factory, recorded before indispensable creative force Donald Johnson was added to the lineup. As if to restate the fact that the presence of the primarily drumming multi-instrumentalist made for a very different band, the next track is the intensely physical and psychedelic percussion stampede "Blown Away," taken from the Flight single. The continued chronological sequencing of the first half enables Box to demonstrate how ACR evolved as they absorbed their inspirations -- funk, post-glam art rock, dub, industrial, fusion's masters of electric low end, Azymuth's "samba doido," early hip-hop -- and converted them into their own thing. Among the tracks hitherto available only on 12" and/or long out-of-print on CD are a Johnson-fronted cover of Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," the atmospheric ballad "There's Only This," and the entirety of a 1986 Peel Session-style EP funded and released by Italians. The second half of Box is mostly demos dating from the mid-'80s Force era and later, largely inconsequential if fascinating for those who have somehow rinsed the LPs and singles. One noteworthy curiosity is a recently finalized cover of Talking Heads' "Houses in Motion," which had remained incomplete since a 1980 meeting with Grace Jones at Strawberry Studios. The project was ditched before Jones finished her turn, leaving the band to make touch-ups to the recording -- featuring Jez Kerr's faithfully deadpan guide vocal and Martin Moscrop's lively contra-Hassell brass -- almost four full decades later. ~ Andy Kellman

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