SCRITTI POLITTI White Bread Black Beer (Rough Trade)

“White Bread Black Beer” is my first long-term listen to Scritti Politti, and I think I’m impressed. If it sounds like that statement has a flock of caveats fluttering above it, maybe it’s because this is a fairly disorientating record. On opener “The Boom Boom Bap”, for example, Green Gartside’s soft, mannered vocals trip over the world’s politest hip hop soundtrack – think a marshmallow-fluffy Dr. Dre. At times “White Bread Black Beer” can seem a soulless experience, almost untouched by any kind of human interaction, yet those same songs – “Throw”, for example, or the jaunty but inscrutable “After Six” and “Road To No Regret” - sweep insidiously up on the listener.

Perhaps the album peaks on its two complex, multi-part epics. Steady on, we’re not talking “Supper’s Ready” here, but “Dr. Abernathy” moves from Simon & Garfunkel-style acoustic guitars and harmonies to a glam stomp and back again, encrusting the whole with mysterious witticisms such as “Dr. Abernathy called to see if you were here / He wanted heroin, I gave him beer”. “Mrs Hughes” again takes in Simon & Garfunkel acousticity, also stopping off for avant garde Beach Boys acapella sections and more of that Dre-lite whistling synth hip hop, anchored by the wry parochialism of lyrics like “Down the town centre where somebody died / By British Home Stores, just sitting outside”.

These songs are a procession of Russian doll enigmas, revealing barely as much as they conceal. Nevertheless, this luxuriantly home-recorded album is the height of synth(etic) sophistication, somewhere on the saccharine side of Prefab Sprout’s pop confections.