Doves, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Electric Six 2005 David Bennun
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Doves/
Lee 'Scratch' Perry/
Electric Six

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]




THERE'S Urban, and then there's urban. The closest Some Cities (Heavenly ***, out tomorrow) comes to R&B is a crafty rewrite of Martha & The Vandellas' Heat Wave on the stirring Black And White Town. But Doves capture nocturnal Manchester with the same fidelity that Underworld once did London. Perhaps a new category is called for - “Municipal”, say.
 Almost everything Doves do is constructed around their favoured relentless Northern Soul drumbeats, which they mantle with echoing guitars and voices that seem to float from half-glimpsed side-streets. Some Cities harks back strongly to the shivering impressionism of U2's The Unforgettable Fire, with the bombast replaced by tension, and streetlamps substituted for starlight. It also owes a debt to techno, not in its sound, but in its defiant repetitiveness. While this sometimes bogs the record down, it also allows the best tracks (Walk In Fire, Almost Forgot Myself) to accumulate some genuine drama.
 Dub reggae, by contrast, is perhaps the form of music least reliant upon a sense of place; rather than conjuring up images of Jamaica, it gazes into inner space. Producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry, arguably its greatest practitioner, seems to have spent a little too long doing exactly that; there are many who know him only as a professional nutter, an image he now cannily trades on. The celebrated Arkology box set helped to set the record straight, and while that scooped up Perry's most famous tracks, it's a measure of the man's catalogue that a further four-disc collection, I Am The Upsetter (Trojan *****, out tomorrow), can sustain a comparable level of quality.
 Covering a broader timespan than Arkology, Upsetter stretches as far back as 1968, with two CDs of tunes more obviously influenced by black American pop. The second half of the set deals in the deep, dense and often wonderfully loopy late-Seventies work that enshrined Perry as the travelling companion of choice for discerning psychonauts (they will take particular pleasure in the disc of dub plates and instrumentals largely credited to Perry's house band, The Upsetters.) Well packaged and annotated, Upsetter stands up not merely as an afterthought to Arkology, but a welcome addition to it.
 Any band that can meld AC/DC and Arthur Baker is alright by me. I loved Electric Six's debut album, Fire, and the live shows that accompanied it. I vigorously defended them from the charge that they were a novelty act - a label they deserve no more than Scissor Sisters (the two bands could be straight and gay siblings), and a lot less than the woeful Darkness.
 As if to prove me wrong, they promptly covered Queen's Radio Ga Ga for the Christmas market. The follow-up LP, Senor Smoke (Warner **, out now) does precious little to help my case. The seething disco-metal has been tempered by an infusion of Eighties gloss-rock. The album's main appeal lies in the histrionic outrage of Dick Valentine's lyrics - railing at the cultural and political apocalypse he perceives to taking place around him - which deserve fewer pyrotechnics and more gunpowder.





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