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The Boston Phoenix Shades of Green

The nitty-gritty on Scritti Politti

By Douglas Wolk

FEBRUARY 14, 2000:  "There are two things you should know about me," Scritti Politti's Green Gartside announced as soon as we were introduced at Virgin Records' New York offices. "I have no conception of time, and I have a very poor memory."

A lot of time has, in fact, slipped away since Scritti's last album -- almost 12 years -- but the new Anomie & Bonhomie (Virgin) is an extraordinary surprise. Green, a former DIY punk turned new-wave hitmaker, has made another stylistic leap -- this time toward a conception of hip-hop grounded in rock instrumentation (he doesn't rap himself, but Mos Def and Da Bush Babees' Lee Majors are all over the album). We played a bunch of songs for Green to see what they brought to mind about the 22-year history of his band.

Freestyle Fellowship, "120 Seconds" (1995). "I took 10 years off from the music industry 'cause I hated it. One of the few things I could listen to and enjoy was hip-hop stuff. I was living in Wales in splendid isolation, in an extraordinary degree of torpor, really. I had a bedroom in this cottage, and the other bedroom was for musical equipment. Some mornings I'd actually open the door and look in there, and it'd be like ' . . . Nnnno, I don't think so.' But I'd listen to some DJ Premier-produced things, or Erick Sermon or Pete Rock, and in that room upstairs I had samplers and a computer, and . . . I just wanted to feel what it felt like to make beats, and it felt great. And as a consequence, I found myself reaching for a guitar, if only for the reason that the Pete Rock and Premier stuff at the time used horn samples, which came off jazz records, and I don't have any jazz records.

"I went and got a record by Da Bush Babees, and I liked it, and then they released a second one, and guesting on the second one was Mos Def, and I thought, 'I like the sound of him!' This was before Rawkus or 'Body Rock' or any of those subsequent things. One of the great things about records is that they're basically excuses to meet people: 'Let's do a Beatles song with Shabba Ranks!' "

Robert Wyatt, "Left on Man" (1991). "Robert Wyatt! I got on well with Robert. The greatest problem between us was a political one. I had been in the Young Communist League -- when I was a schoolboy, I'd established a branch or two. And I was the one that didn't get beaten up on the way to our first meeting. I'd worked with the Communist Party of Great Britain's headquarters. I kind of knew what the party was like. One of the things that appealed to me about Marxism was its anti-utopian foundation -- it was infinitely preferable to wishing that the world was a nicer place, or that Robin Hood was elected sheriff. But through reading a lot of theory and working for the party, I thought, 'This ain't for me,' whereas Robert was getting more into it. I really liked him, but that was the principal reason for drifting apart: he was getting more Stalinist and I wasn't. He played on the Scritti single 'The Sweetest Girl' -- at one point he wheeled himself into the recording room and wept, with his back to us."

TLC, "Silly Ho" (1999). "There's a certain approach to arrangements that we inherited from a number of sources, people like the System and Solar Records. Plus we were fascinated with technology and how much you could push it and fuck with it. I can remember somewhere in the '80s, DeBarge came out with a record that was so exquisitely detailed a copy of what we had done that we realized it had entered the . . . zeitgeisty thing. Teddy Riley is a fucking genius. I love Teddy Riley. I think there's a lot of interesting stuff in contemporary R&B, though David [Gamson, Scritti keyboardist-turned-producer] thinks it all sucks."

Scritti Politti, "Hegemony" (1978). "I didn't even realize this was me until a few seconds ago. I took a sabbatical [before Cupid & Psyche, 1985] and went back to my cottage in Wales and wrote copiously about why we should stop making records like this one. There's this idea of the voice as a sort of expressive conduit back to pure presence, the unmediated, the genuine -- and of course it isn't any of those things. My voice changed much less by conscious design than it did with all these thoughts shifting around the back of my head. So the first time I went to sing after this hiatus, I sounded like someone else, who didn't, perhaps, hold the same sets of priorities as the other guy. Consumption and criticism of music is riddled with these spatial metaphors, these binary terms, insides and outsides. I was thrilled to have a chance to play around with that. I just don't buy it."

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