Call it a comeback, again. Green Gartside has done this before — not only defied doubts of a return to music, but also made his re-entry with a brand new bag. And thank god he’s not carrying the one he did for 1999’s Anomie & Bonhomie, a hip-hop-flavored affair best forgotten.
White Bread Black Beer is an intimate experiment in pure dream pop, recorded entirely by Gartside at his home. A bedroom record if ever there was one, the album is limited to its bare essential elements, only one of which is truly essential: Gartside’s rich and fragile multi-tracked voice. The spare synth accompaniments are as good as an afterthought and at times, such as the brief “No Fine Lines,” are nearly nonexistent. But another such track, “Throw,” shows how Gartside’s vocals, given the right amount of strength and not left to drift away in their own listlessness, can command the type of attention that gained the singer notoriety as both a post-punk pioneer and a soul machine. For its first minute, the track’s musical accompaniment is so arbitrary it might as well (and could possibly) be a Wesley Willis Casio preset, but Gartside sings the opening lines — “I can’t find a stand to take, to or from the road to ruin/ sure I’ve got the sense to make a record of my own undoing” — with the spirit that illuminates why people still clearly give a damn nearly thirty years after Scritti Politti’s debut single.
Whether Gartside’s music is still relevant is a different story. Despite White Bread Black Beer‘s undeniable beauty, it feels largely out of place as a product of the contemporary spectrum of music. Just as Kate Bush’s passable 2005 double album, Aerial, excited longtime fans but fell on deaf ears to those who hadn’t been with the siren before the Futureheads revived “Hounds of Love,” Scritti Politti in 2006 has the same appeal, especially when tracks such as “The Boom Boom Bap” and “Robin Hood” play like tongue-in-cheek attempts at keeping with modern trends while others (“Snow in Sun,” “After Six”) are stuck in a decades-old time capsules. Why should we care? One listen to Gartside’s vocals should answer that question. Too bad they’re just as easy to ignore.
“Snow in Sun” (live) MP3
“Robin Hood” (live) MP3
“Road to No Regret” (live) MP3