Lee Scratch Perry
Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2009, Volume 16, #3
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu March 19, 2009, 03:30 AM CDT
For those without a scorecard, Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered is the third album of new material that Lee "Scratch" Perry issued in 2008. This, in itself, would be a remarkable achievement for any artist in today’s corporately steered music scene — younger music fans probably won’t remember that performers like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Miles Davis often would release two or three records in a year. For a musician well into his eighth decade, however, this is nothing short of a miracle. More noteworthy, still, is the fact that each of the three endeavors — Repentance, The Mighty Upsetter, and Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered — sound very different from one another.
Perhaps a little context is necessary before diving into Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered. The outing represents Perry’s second collaboration with John Saxon, a British producer and multi-instrumentalist with a flair for creating ambient dub soundscapes. As a producer, engineer, writer, and singer, Perry spent decades recording an average of a song a day to satisfy the thirst for new material of Jamaica’s competitive dance-hall scene. During this chapter of his career, Perry — despite the myths of madness, intoxication, and abuse that have followed him — established an approach to recording, as well as a work ethic to support it, that made him one of the most prolific artists in history. With thousands of songs to his credit and a creative well from which to draw, he has shown no signs of running dry. Perry just doesn’t fit into the sorts of modern promotional strategies, which limit the number of tracks or albums that a person can release in a 12-month period of time.
Anyone who is familiar with Perry’s work can attest to the fact that he has an enormous number of poor quality products on the market. Most of these endeavors, however, are unauthorized recordings that were released by unscrupulous record pirates rather than material that he intended for the world to hear. When Perry’s Black Ark studio burnt to the ground in the 1980s, hundreds of tapes went missing. Many of them have since surfaced in bastardized forms. So, when it comes to buying Perry’s outings, it often is a case of buyer-beware. Yet, his three new efforts all have something to recommend about them, and each is a distinct project that was approved by the singer himself.
The Mighty Upsetter is the best of these new endeavors as it showcases his first collaboration with Adrian Sherwood in nearly two decades. Together, the men intuitively bounce lyrics and sounds around in order to create some of the most intricate and creative music of the year. Their blend of roots reggae, industrial music, and the aesthetics of abstract painting — Perry often paints on stage while Sherwood spins the dials — makes for thrilling listening. Everyone with a passing interest in Perry should check out all four of their efforts because these endeavors are, without exception, essential.
Of his new outings, Repentance is the one that has received the most marketing and attention. It also was nominated for "Album of the Year" in the reggae category of the 2009 Grammy Awards. As with The Mighty Upsetter and Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered, Repentance is essentially a collaboration with a single person. In this case, it’s Andrew WK, a young, American record producer with a background in hardcore rap and hip-hop. The outing possesses an edgy sound, and it seems as if Perry is having a lot of fun playing off the metallic sheen of Andrew WK’s techno-reggae dub plates. Perry’s lyrics, however, very rarely extend beyond the double-entendres in which he typically revels. Consequently, for all of its innovative grooves, it is easy to tire of Repentance and crave something with more substance.
Thankfully, Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered delivers on all fronts. While The End of an American Dream — Perry’s first collaboration with Saxon — was a listless and unfocused affair with a weak soundtrack, their second effort together shows vast improvement in both its music and its vocals. Throughout the endeavor, Saxon continues to create low-key electronica backdrops over which Perry can sing, but the addition of jazzy horns and restrained sound effects make for a much more interesting listening experience.
At times on Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered, one can hear echoes of Bob Marley’s Trenchtown Rock-era arrangements. On other cuts, one could imagine that Sade and Nina Simone’s unique styles of phrasing are gliding over the seductive melodies. On every track on the endeavor, the subtlety of the beats stands in direct opposition to the blistering assault of Repentance. Perry’s lyrics are more playful, rhythmic, and complex as a result. Lines like "this is a skeleton from outer space/with his Remington in his suitcase/Drink your drink and think your think/Drunk your drunk and thunk your thunk" might not appear to have a lot of life when they are read. Nevertheless, they assume a sinewy poeticism when they are rendered in Perry’s beat-infused, Jamaican cadence.
Like many modern albums by first-generation reggae artists, Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered features several high-profile guest stars. Keith Richards contributes guitar riffs that are subtle but perfect on two songs, and George Clinton echoes Perry’s vocals on Headz Gonna Roll. Those folks looking for the best musical parting shot at George W. Bush’s outgoing presidency don’t need to search any further than Sinful Fuckers and Yee Ha Ha Ha — both of which say more in three minutes than Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, and NPR have said in thousands of words.
How Perry continues to produce such an abundance of great music is anyone’s guess. The past twelve months have formed a banner year for him, and Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered is good, clean fun from one of the world’s greatest musical treasures.
Of Further Interest...
Scratch Came Scratch Saw Scratch Conquered is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box