Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Scritti Politti - The Sweetest Girl

Album: Songs To Remember (Rough Trade,1982) Chart pos: UK#64

This entry is a bit different as unlike the other posts I am writing about a group of whose body of work (bar a few songs) I have heard little of, the band in question is Scritti Politti. The band which is essentially a vehicle for singer-songwriter Green Gartside were born out of the post-punk independent rock boom. Gartiside (born Paul Julian Strohmeyer) was an unusual front man ,a pretty boy Marxist who wears his university education on his sleeve by alluding to Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci (in the title of the band) and writing a song about French theorist Jacques Derrida.

Despite the intellectualism Gartside has always had a certain pop sensibility and their 1981 single The Sweetest Girl is seen as the pivotal moment when the band made the leap from post-punk to pop. I think this record could be more aptly described as a transitional record as it stands somewhere between the slick pop of their later career and their earlier anarcho-punk. Listening to this song with its hissing drum machine, reggae rhythms and looping pianos (courtesy of then label mate Robert Wyatt) it becomes clear that the song is sticks too much to a roughly-hewn lo-fi indie aesthetic, yet Gartside’s move to a falsetto vocal style does hint at what came later. The single however limped into the lower reaches of the charts possibly due to its lo-fi sound and the fact that the song doesn’t stick to a traditional verse chorus verse structure . In 1986 when Scritti Politti were at the height of their fame Madness managed to break the top 40 with their own version of the song.

Last Friday on BBC3 there was a really impressive documentary on Rough Trade charting the label from its beginnings in Ladbroke Grove in the late 70’s to its demise in the 90’s ending with the labels reactivation and newly found success in the new millennium. Gartside and former drummer Tom Morley were interviewed , the documentary is viewable here, enjoy.

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