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INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES

The Wire DECEMBER 2019 - by John Morrison

LEE 'SCRATCH' PERRY: LIFE OF PLANTS / HEAVY RAIN

In a piece for The Wire 199 written in 2000, writer Simon Reynolds declares his intention to write "a meditation on the white romance with Jamaican music". Moving from rock and punk's rasta-rebellion fantasies to writer Greil Marcus's unfortunate crowning of Bob Marley "a Caribbean Dylan" and beyond, the piece also finds Reynolds wrestling with his own inability to identify with the spirituality that lies at the heart of dub and roots reggae. Reynolds turns his attention to Jamaican pioneer Lee 'Scratch' Perry, proclaiming him to be "The totem touchstone, and discursive bulwark" for the Afrofuturist take on reggae. Perry, whose elaborate costumes, cryptic speech and flamboyant persona have helped fashion the kind of idiosyncratic black genius/madman archetype that white audiences love to gawk at and white critics often feel the need to inspect and explain.

Heavy Rain - a dub companion to April's Rainford album created in collaboration with UK dub scientist Adrian Sherwood - opens with Music Shall Echo. "Music alone shall live, never to die" intones Perry's delayed voice alongside the sound of roaring lions. The Brian Eno collaboration Here Come The Warm Dreads, despite having the cheesiest, winking at the camera/self-referential title, coalesces around a regal brass melody and popping rhythm section to create a solidly funky slice of spaced out dub. Rattling Bones And Crowns is a sharper, darker take on the Rainford cut Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers. Rattling Bones strips the original's elements down to its drum and bass, while Perry commands us to "kill dem dead". Perry yells and sings sweetly, while liquid guitar lines float in and out of the sonic picture. The track is topped off with some triumphant soloing from Vin Gordon, legendary Jamaican trombonist and former Perry collaborator at Coxsone Dodd's legendary Studio One.

Similarly collaborative - but stylistically removed from the roots orthodoxy of Rainford and Heavy Rain - Perry, Ivan Lee and psychedelic pop duo Peaking Lights join forces on Life Of The Plants. Despite being only three tracks (with three versions), it establishes a tripped out sonic world where Perry's outrageous vocal stylings take centre stage. The title track begins with a 4/4 kick drum and dreamy harmonies before Perry enters with "No chicken heads, no chicken backs, no cannibalism, no tribalism". With its deep analogue synth bass and chopping keyboard chords, Life Of The Plants establishes the crew's warm, sleepy form of digital dub. The final track Magik is centred around loose, low-slung synth bass dancing alongside electronic percussion. Perry and Dunis trade lines shrouded in mystery: "Magik! The magik of the Earth". Perry evokes images of lighting sage, avoiding chemtrails, supporting our kinfolk in Africa and having a party calling up the ghosts of the ancestors.


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