REVIEWS: ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS

Lee Scratch Perry Arkology 3 EMI 724383445349
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Even among a reggae producers' roll of honour that would include such giants as Bunny Lee, Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid and Joe Gibbs, the name of Lee "Scratch" Perry retains a particular cachet, a full 20 years after his best work was recorded.

Following an apprenticeship with Dodd, Perry struck out on his own in the late 1960s, producing some of The Wailers' finest recordings and setting up his own studio, Black Ark, where the material collected on this three- CD set - including such landmarks as Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves" and Max Romeo's "War in a Babylon" - was recorded between 1975 and 1979.

Perry was a gifted eccentric at large in an increasingly corporatised industry, a renegade talent prone to extravagant claims and absurd pseudonyms, of which The Upsetter remains the most famous and perhaps most appropriate. This was a man who, writing in protest to the Japanese Minister of Justice over McCartney's dope bust, signed the letter "Baby Blue Green Star, Pipecock Jackson, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Banhana Eye I Pen Ja, Natures Love Defender", as magnificent a collection of pseudonyms as has been adopted since WC Fields ceased scriptwriting.

The cover shot of a barefoot Perry, spliff in hand, flapping a capacious flare alongside his Soundcraft desk, captures the essential spirit of his records. In the simplest terms, this was the first time that a mixing console had been completely at the mercy of someone who smoked such a colossal amount of dope. The results - brilliant, quixotic, infectiously avant-garde - involved nothing less than a re-imagining of the sculptural nature of music, through a combination of extreme tone equalisation and imaginative use of the echo, reverb and flange effects newly available to sound engineers in the 1970s.

The legendary reggae engineer King Tubby may have invented dub, but it was Lee Perry that took dub techniques into fantastic new realms. Bass had never been recorded quite this deep (an echo, perhaps, of the tortured woofers of Jamaica's sound systems), and musicians' individual parts had never been treated with quite such cavalier dexterity as on Perry's dubs - which, in the island's tradition, were milked for all they were worth. The sublime backing to "Police & Thieves", for instance, is extended here across a two further talkover toasts and a fourth instrumental dub, all equally as good.

Littered with alternate takes and extended mixes, the 52 tracks of Arkology comprise the best collection available of Perry's most productive period, besting even the series of boxed sets put out some years ago by Trojan Records. Unfortunately, they also represent the end of an era, the Black Ark having burnt down in mysterious circumstances shortly after they were recorded

Perry has since led a peripatetic existence, recording mainly substandard work wherever and whenever he can get it. At a time when callow young remixers are routinely showered with studio equipment by record companies, it's a sonic scandal that this dub originator still has no home base to work from. If it comes to that, whatever happened to the idea of patronage? Couldn't some rich rock star - maybe one once busted in Japan - build him a studio of his own as a tax write-off?

Comments