Album-Review: Lee Scratch Perry & ERM - Humanicity
by Angus Taylor
On stage Lee "Scratch" Perry is a far more sedate figure than the hyperactive genius of the previous century (although as his supply of energy has declined the demand from each new generation to see the legend in action continues unabated). However, as this album illustrates, with the right rhythms he is still capable of quality recorded produce.
"I don't look back" he warns on upbeat third track (and first single) In The Bathroom [listen below] yet it's clear his French producers ERM do. Their music here is very much traditional roots reggae mixing 70s and 80s elements: crisply rendered and dominant over Perry's burbling vocals. The production is actually quite restrained compared to that of earlier collaborators like Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor, and Bill Laswell (or Scratch's vintage catalogue for that matter) but this is no bad thing. There are snatches of Perry's past in the form of the bassline to Black Board Jungle Dub on 4th Dimension and Shuffle stemming from the Wailers' Rebel's Hop. The only departure from reggae, Move On, takes us back to another time of Perry renaissance - the 90s - with an excursion into the most dated soundtrack of the era: intelligent drum'n'bass.
Scratch's own contributions are fairly perfunctory - the usual stream of consciousness talk that he displays live. His voice (with its phrasing that took Bob Marley's vocals to the next level) is still compelling as he spits his signature brew of sex, violence and scatology. Although it doesn't sound like he spent an exhaustive amount of time in the studio, multiple takes are spliced in an interesting way so he can chat to himself.
And there is method in the mumbling. His riffs on cancer during Rastafari are not dissimilar to those of maverick English comedians Derek & Clive. For 4th Dimension he recalls a fellow musical surrealist, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, making the same joke as Viv did on Ali Baba's Camel using "LSD" to mean pounds, shillings and pence. Perry also has some controversial words for Marley in the track: saying "Reggae didn't come from Trench Town. Bob Marley lied that's why he died".
Broadsides aside there's nothing revolutionary here - in fact, the combo of top quality musicians and growling utterances that will make limited sense to sceptics while being hailed as genius by acolytes suggests latter-day Bob Dylan. But even if it doesn't come close to the originality of old, it's simplicity is its success. Definitely one of the better Scratch albums of recent years.
Lee Scratch Perry - Humanicity
DIGITAL RELEASE [ERM]
Release date: 10/2/2012
02. Diplomat, Aristocrat
03. In The Bathroom
04. Jesus Perry
05. 4th Dimension
06. Lee Meets ERM
09. No Bad Boy
10. Move On