A Certain Ratio – The Graveyard and the Ballroom review
A Certain Ratio issued Factory Records’ first single-artist release, May 1979’s All Night Party/ The Thin Boys, and were arguably the first white post-punk group to go funky – it’s a toss-up between them and The Pop Group.
The Manchester band with the era- defining look – thin boys sporting crew cuts with shaved sides and baggy khaki shorts – were definitely there or thereabouts at the genesis of punk-funk, and despite not selling vast quantities of records, have certainly proved influential, as US and UK outfits from The Rapture to Franz Ferdinand would attest.
It was dance music, but a very different kind of dance music, one that located funk’s heart of darkness, a sort of Cold War disco, or funk noir. The first reissue from this Mute Records campaign is their 1980 debut album – or rather cassette, because it was only issued on that format (it’s accompanied by the 1981 follow-up To Each…, and their fifth album from 1986, Force, with more reissues to follow in 2018).
“The Graveyard And The Ballroom remains an astonishing first salvo. Produced by Martin Hannett, Side A was recorded at Graveyard Studios in September 1979, while Side B, The Ballroom, was laid down live at London’s Electric Ballroom in October.” – Paul Lester
Hannett’s presence was key: he made ACR sound like Joy Division at Studio 54, only dank and dolorous instead of joyous and euphoric. Simon Topping’s vocals had the mournful quality of Ian Curtis, only they were allied to Donald Johnson’s funktastic drumming and Martin Moscrop’s sped-up, serrated take on funk’s chicken-scratch guitar. Do The Du is a revelation/revolution, funk/disco’s tropes and pleasure principles inverted: “Our love was just an open sore/Which you picked at till it was raw/It bled away my existence…”
It was as though ACR wanted to pay tribute to Parliament et al, but they couldn’t help themselves. If funk was full-bodied, this was anaemic; if funk was phat, this was malnourished, skeletal. Crippled Child (also known as Son And Heir) is an insistent drone, Choir is like Aled Jones in hell, Flight is a phantasm of ricocheting rim-shots, Suspect is a blitzkrieg of feedbacking bass, and I Fall features manically twitching guitar and rhythm- as-spasm.
The Graveyard has largely been overlooked in the avant-funk/death-disco canon that also includes PiL’s Metal Box and Talking Heads’ Fear Of Music. It’s being reissued now, on vinyl, CD and, yes, the newly-hip cassette. You shouldn’t ignore it this time.