Friday, June 22, 2012

Deconstructionist pop: Scritti Politti Mark II

The first publicly aired work by the reborn Scritti was 'The "Sweetest Girl"' - 'a perversion and an extension of lovers' rock', declared Green. Sweet was the word, to an almost diabetic coma-inducing degree. Green crooned soft and high like Gregory Isaacs blended with Al Green. Underneath pulsed a rhythm section of crips drum machine and gentle-yet-steadfast bass. Green's hero Robert Wyatt dusted the luscious confection with ethereal flickers of reggae-style organ. Now Scritti's anxious compulsion to avoid conventional structures at al costs was gone, Green's melodic genius was unshackled and gushed forth in a flood of pure loveliness. But there was still a lingering undertone of the old Scritti's harmonic eeriness to put a tang of bitter in the sweet.

Scritti Politti - The "Sweetest Girl" 1981

The new Scritti's singles copied the stylish packaging of deluxe commodities: Dunhill cigarettes with 'The "Sweetest Girl"', Dior Eau Sauvage fragrance with "Faithless", Courvoisier brandy with "Asylums in Jerusalem". Green talked of admiring their 'cheap classiness' - the non-elitist elegance of commonly available consumer disposables.

'Desire' was a big buzzword in 1981. Drifting into popular culture from the world of critical theory, it retained an electric tinge of subversion. In "Jacques Derrida", Green personifies Desire as an insatiable she-monster: 'Rap-acious, rap-acious', he chants in a fey attempt at rapping, 'Desire is so voracious/I want her to eat your nation state'.

Scritti Politti - Jacques Derrida 1982

Green wanted to operate like pop's deconstructionist, unravelling the lore of the love song even as he revelled in the beauty generated by its dream-lies. 'The weakest link in every chain/I always want to find it', he crooned in 'The "Sweetest Girl"' 'The strongest words in each belief/To find out what's behind it'. The one mysticism he permitted himself was music itself - the endless mystery of melodic beauty. 'Faithless now, just got soul', he simultaneously lamented and rejoiced in "Faithless", a gorgeous song about the impossibility of belief, couched in the deep, testifying certainty of gospel.

Scritti Politti - Faithless 1982

"Asylums in Jerusalem", the third single from the new Scritti, was uptempo reggae with a cloying, caramel-sweet melody. It was catchy enough to get to the edge of the Top 40, but despite Rough Trade's strongest push to date and heavy radio support, it proved to be Scritti's third not-quite-a-hit in a row. Perhaps the Nietzsche-inspired lyrics were to blame - they lacked the common touch and didn't exactly resonate unless you were a student of continental philosophy.

Scritti Politti - Asylums in Jerusalem 1982

Like Orange Juice a year earlier, Green underwent the public humiliation of having talked loudly about 'pop' but not having become it. The problem lay partly with the music, which sounded underproduced, but mainly with the lyrics. "Sex" for instance, wasn't really about sex: Green described it as a 'gentle parody of me and my relationship with pop music'.

Scritti Politti - Sex 1982

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