White Bread Black Beer – a Review

In some ways, Green Gartside, the man behind Scritti Politti, has come full circle. The original Scritti formed in the aftermath of punk, and inspired by the DIY ethos of the time, produced and released their earliest recordings, eventually seeking distribution through the Rough Trade label. Nearly thirty years later, and Scritti is back at Rough Trade, with this latest album, recorded and produced at Gartside’s home in East London. The music, however, is as far from those difficult post-punk meanderings as could be imagined.

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is Scritti’s most diverse album yet, a rich smorgasbord of sounds, from squelchy dub reggae to Beatlesque electro-folk. Opening track, and first single, ‘The Boom Boom Bap’, is Green’s ode to hip hop. It begins with his unmistakable falsetto whispered sweetly over tinkling keyboards. The music builds over a series of verses, before finishing as it began, with a whisper – ‘I love you still… I always will.’

‘Snow in Sun’ features rhythm guitar and toy-like chime sounds. It’s almost reminiscent of Andy Partridge’s songwriting in mood and sentiment.

…And you will never be without me
You will never need to doubt me
There’ll be something good about me soon
Like sun in the city snow
Like snow in the city sun.

But, like most of the songs on the album, ‘Snow in Sun’ doesn’t conform to the usual verse-chorus-verse structure. After a reprise of the opening vocal section, the song segues into an electro-funk fadeout.

Album centrepiece ‘Dr Abernathy’ (a descendent of the Beatles’ ‘Dr Robert’) is another example of Green’s playful approach to song structure on ‘White Bread’. It begins and ends with gently strummed guitar and sweet harmonies, but in between is a stomping rock song, complete with crunching riffs (and whistling!).

‘Mrs. Hughes’ opens with Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies, proceeds with some melancholy guitar and McCartney-esque moments, before concluding with a funky coda, over which Green confesses – ‘I’ve been a bad bad man, done some very wicked thing, oh baby, been a bad bad man.’

‘Throw’ and ‘E Eleventh Nuts’ are reggae-tinged pop tunes, while ‘Locked’ (apparently written for Kylie Minogue) is a shimmering love ballad.

Darling I will keep you with me
In ribbons and in bows
In ways you’ll never show…
…a game that only you and I can know,
I’ll turn and lock the door – and you’ll be there…

One of the highlights is closing track ‘Robin Hood’. If it wasn’t for the squelchy electronic rhythms you’d swear it was an summer hit from the early 70s, complete with ‘ba-ba-ba’s and ‘woo-hoo’s.

I been longing too long a time
I dream of ending these dreams
Of mine, of hope, for love for evermore
Just to, adore and be adored, the need for someone new

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is probably Scritti’s most intimate and straightforward album. There are no references to Derrida or Marxism, no guest rappers or trumpet players. It’s just Gartside and his songs. After three decades in the music business – from post-punk to new pop to hip hop – Green Gartside seems relaxed and comfortable and quite happy doing whatever comes to him.

It sounds like a pretty good place to be.


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