Formed in 1977, Manchester’s A Certain Ratio were part of the post-punk class of 1979, with their jagged debut single, “All Night Party”, an early song released by the Factory Records label. Success on the British indie single and album charts followed as the band incorporated funk, disco, other danceable elements into an ever-evolving sound.
Now, after collating their past on 2019’s ACR: Box collection, A Certain Ratio has released ACR Loco, their first album of new material in 12 years. Featuring three original band members – Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop, and Donald Johnson – along with members of the band’s current live ensemble, ACR Loco finds the band in an expansive, jazzy state of mind. Musically, A Certain Ratio sound far removed from their post-punk roots now, relying more on their sound’s dance and funk elements. That supports the message of positivity that they seem intent on putting out into the current, crazy world.
ACR Loco invites listeners in slowly with the first few minutes of its opening track, the subdued “Friends Around Us”. Eventually, though, the moody music lively ups itself just in time to deliver a simple but always-appropriate message in the lyrics: “Love your friends / Love your friends.” With the title “Bouncy Bouncy”, it’s no surprise that the album’s go-go-influenced second track is an invitation to “let the rhythm take you”, but the song also notes that “we all need to come together to fight greed / They’re inventing pain / For their short term gain / We need to bounce / Regain.”
A Certain Ratio continue their dance floor odyssey on “Supafreak” before settling into a mid-tempo pop groove for the romantic “Always in Love”. “Always in Love”, even down to its title, is exactly the kind of song that a movie character played by Molly Ringwald, circa 1985, would have loved.
ACR Loco steps out of John Hughes movieland and back onto the dancefloor with “Family”, another potential dancefloor filler with a message: “Brothers and sisters we are family / One world united / Love peace harmony.” Such sentiments might seem to be a touch naïve at the moment, but A Certain Ratio seem to feel like we ought to try to grab some positivity wherever we can find it, and, honestly, that’s not a bad idea.
Sadly, ACR Loco will mark one of the last recordings of vocalist Denise Johnson, who died suddenly at 56 in July. In addition to working with A Certain Ratio for 25 years, Johnson recorded New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Electronic, and Primal Scream. Johnson is one of the album’s special guests, including Sink Ya Teeth’s Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford, Gabe Gurnsey, Mike Joyce, and Eric Random. None of this guest-starring comes across as obtrusive, though.
A Certain Ratio’s musical expansiveness is felt most strongly on the album’s closing track, “Taxi Guy”, a percussion/horns/electronics-fueled instrumental. Featuring both languid Brazilian-inspired sounds and propulsive rhythms, “Taxi Guy” could either chill a listener out immensely or get their head and maybe the rest of their bopping, depending on their frame of mind. Either way, “Taxi Guy” closes ACR Loco with an appropriately blissful vibe.