Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Album Review: Various/Sherwood at the Controls Volume 1 1979-1984 (2015)

I’m a sucker for Adrian Sherwood and/or On-U Sound archive compilation albums. There’s been a few over the years, and I’ve purchased – at one time or another, in some form or another – pretty much all of them. Give or take. I particularly loved the Pay It All Back series of the late Eighties and Nineties and that full set still takes pride of place in my CD collection – I also had vinyl versions of the first couple of albums but was ultimately only able to complete the set on CD. I can’t imagine there would be too many collectors out there privileged enough to have the job lot on vinyl, but I’m happy to be proven wrong and wonder if any such collector would be up for a sneaky marriage proposal. You know where to find me (you lucky thing!). 

The thing about Sherwood and his remarkable label, of course, is the producer’s uncanny ability to work with – and transform the work of – artists of all colour, creed, gender, and genre. Something amply demonstrated on Sherwood at the Controls, which digs deep into those treasured archives to present a snapshot of some of his best work from the label's formative 1979 to 1984 period.

Sherwood at the Controls features 14 tracks from that era, with hard-edged post-punk from the likes of The Fall (‘Middle Mass’) and The Slits (‘Man Next Door’) sitting comfortably alongside the dub and roots flavours of the late Prince Far I (‘Nuclear Weapon’), Singers & Players (‘Reaching The Bad Man’), and perennial On-U favourite African Head Charge (‘In A Trap’).

Somewhere in the middle of those very compatible extremes we find Shriekback (‘Mistah Linn He Dead’), Mark Stewart’s Maffia (‘Learning to Cope with Cowardice’ – the “flexi” version), and another frequent collaborator in the form of Annie Anxiety (aka Little Annie) with the near unclassifiable ‘Third Gear Kills’.

Then there’s the stuff that I’m less familiar with – even as an ardent Sherwood fan – from the where-are-they-now files of Medium Medium (‘Hungry, So Angry’) which opens proceedings, to Maximum Joy with ‘Let It Take You There’, Nadjma with ‘Some Day My Caliph Will Come’, and a track from the wonderfully named (in an Eighties context) Gardening By Moonlight, who offer us ‘Strange Clues’, yet little clue as to who they might actually be. There’s also a notable contribution from well-known music journalist Vivien Goldman (‘Private Armies Dub’) which closes the album.

Which just leaves us with my own choice cut from the album, Voice of Authority’s ‘Running (Feeling Wild)’, a slightly dated yet nonetheless absorbing slab of electro funk which features Congo Ashanti Roy.

"no kittens were harmed during the making of" ... etc

There’s always a danger that these types of archive/compilation releases can come across as being disjointed or lacking in flow, but while Sherwood explores all manner of styles on At The Controls, it all blends together well and the listening experience is seldom less than riveting.

I guess I should also offer the disclaimer that I’m a massive fan of the producer and the label, so this review may be slightly coloured by that fact; Sherwood could probably be convicted of kitten molestation and I’d still not be fazed about expressing my undying love for his work. That’s just the way it is. And hey, the kitten was just as likely asking for it anyway.

As if that isn’t enough, as if being a historically significant collection with a plethora of rare and under-the-radar material isn’t enough, the very best thing about Sherwood at the Controls is the bit that reads “Volume 1” … you know what that means don’t you?

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