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Pitchfork JANUARY 9, 2020 - by Ben Cardew
LEE 'SCRATCH' PERRY: HEAVY RAIN
The dub innovator reworks 2019's Rainford, stripping the original down into a form that is warmer and weirder.
For many artists, releasing a remixed version of your album just six months after it drops would be frivolous. For reggae legend Lee 'Scratch' Perry, a man who helped invent the remix with his 1970s experiments in dub, this kind of rapid turnover runs in the blood. Heavy Rain turns out to be a stronger release than parent album Rainford: warmer, more inventive, and a great deal weirder.
Not that Rainford was a failure: Billed as a Johnny Cash-style reinvention, it proved a decent stab at marrying contemporary production to Perry's rare moments of personal reflection. But Heavy Rain, essentially a dubbed-out reinterpretation of Rainford from Perry and UK producer Adrian Sherwood plus occasional guests, plays to Rainford's considerable strengths while papering over its weaknesses.
Sometimes these are closely related. Perry's iconic vocal tone, growling and soft, like a bear in a Björk video, is one of the key attractions of any of his records. But he does tend to ramble in his dotage, making many songs on Rainford resemble strings of non sequiturs. Heavy Rain is hardly compact or fat-free, but Perry's often nonsensical lyrics are less jarring when treated as another instrument to be rolled about in the mix, while his gravelly vocal timbre is perfectly suited for the regimen of echo and delay that it receives on songs like Mindworker. By contrast, the Heavy Rainford remake of Rainford's Autobiography Of The Upsetter - one of the few overtly autobiographical songs in the latter-day Scratch catalog - feels slight in comparison to the original song's mood of profound nostalgia.
A similar logic of enhanced reduction applies to Heavy Rain's musical bed. Perry and Sherwood strip Rainford down to its bones to better play about with individual elements, meaning that the dubs on Heavy Rain are both more minimal and more involved than their Rainford counterparts. Here Come the Warm Dreads (a remake of Rainford's Makumba Rock) is a wonderful example. There's not a great deal to the song - rolling bassline, shuffling drums, guitar skank, plaintive horn, and the occasional vocal interjection - but featured guest Brian Eno (on the right channel) and Adrian Sherwood (on the left) play merry hell with the mix, subjecting these elements to a magical mystery tour of production sorcery whose detail demands to be heard on good headphones. This approach also helps to highlight moments of individual brilliance: The plaintive refrain of Rainford's Children Of The Light works far better on Heavy Rain's Enlightened, where it is untangled from Perry's circuitous vocal and left to drift on a cloud of effects.
Trombonist Vin Gordon, best known for his work with Bob Marley, is another notable highlight throughout Heavy Rain, adding such lilting melancholy to Crickets In Moonlight that the absence of vocal barely registers, while his instrument's conversational tone on Rattling Bones And Crowns conveys more humanity than many singers' most heartfelt confessions.
That Perry's octogenarian genius is better suited to dub than reggae (and to moods over songs) is evident in the two new tracks towards the end of Heavy Rain - Dreams Come True and Above And Beyond - whose songwriting feels overly polite compared to the album's prevailing air of anarchic fun. That's no big stumbling block, though: Heavy Rain is a surprisingly inspired piece of late-period dabbling from a dub master.