Album Reviews

A Certain Ratio – It All Comes Down To This

(Mute) UK release date: 19 April 2024

Delicate tension, bass-driven grooves and danceable beats all feature on the thirteenth album from Manchester post-punk survivors

A Certain Ratio - It All Comes Down To This It is no coincidence that UK bands making their name in the early 1980s are flourishing once again. Back then, their musical language and lyrics often reflected the perilous times the country was facing, with strikes, political uncertainty, international tensions and poverty the order of the day. Forty years on, the conditions are aligning with uncanny and unswerving accuracy. We find bitter resentment and dread in the wider world, but thankfully the music is capable once again of a positive and meaningful response.

A Certain Ratio sense this alignment and have embarked on a musical diet for 2024. Stripping back to a trio, Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop and Donald Johnson enlisted producer Dan Carey to make a 10-track album – their thirteenth – taking them back to basics.

Shorn of studio trappings, the music could easily have been made and recorded in the early 1980s, yet it carries musical and lyrical references that are wholly of the present day. There are reminiscences, but these are frank and made without rose-tinted glasses. Instead, Jez Kerr’s descriptive vignettes are complemented by lithe, bass-driven grooves and danceable beats.

These elements are balanced exquisitely on the likes of Keep It Real. A song with a working title Funky Hendrix, it nods to the Freedom Riders of southern US in 1961, doing so through the prism of lyrical snippets that quote 90s classics from The Shamen and Leftfield. Kerr is clever with his words, often adding a subtly dark humour as he writes. Surfer Ticket finds him aping Bruce Forsyth with the observation that “it’s nice to see you die, to see you die, nice!”

The trio create a delicate tension with their music, which often takes on a foreboding tone. The title track is a case in point, with urgent beats but a wary chorus. Bitten By A Lizard features a stealthy synthesizer bed that permeates the song, while We All Need simmers in the half light, its atmospheric observations bolstered by the trumpet of Jamie Beardmore. Kerr writes evocative suburban poetry on Estate Kings, harking back to 1970s Manchester where he grew up. Again the trumpet is key, this time with more elaborate commentary from Moscrop.

Yet A Certain Ratio are also capable of giving their listeners a lasting uplift. The subtle yet anthemic chorus of Where You Coming From lingers long in the memory, as does the groove of Out From Under, striking a funky pose of which Nile Rodgers would be proud.

It is these grooves that prove the clincher, lifting a very good album to excellent status. Kerr’s elastic bass lines underpin each track with impressive surety, brilliantly matched by Donald Johnson’s springy drums and Martin Moscrop’s subtly insistent guitar lines. Carey’s production is the icing on the cake, giving each element the room it needs to breathe.

 A Certain Ratio’s 2024 model is a lean, mean, fighting machine that delivers one of their very finest albums to date – and for a band who have been in existence for more than 45 years, that really is saying something.

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