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Manchester Legends A Certain Ratio Still Get It Understood

On It All Comes Down to This, the British post-punk lifers reach back to their roots while dispensing modern wisdom
A Certain Ratio (Photo credit: Debbie Ellis)

A Certain Ratio – It All Comes Down to This

Eclectic post-punkers A Certain Ratio have enjoyed a remarkably long shelf life. A staggering 45 years into their career, the disco-funk/industrial-jazz/world-dance stalwarts have outlasted pretty much everyone and everything in the influential Manchester scene from which they arose. 

Yet It All Comes Down to This, their 13th album—there have been some hiatuses over the years—doesn’t sound like a work of nostalgia. With help from Squid producer Dan Carey, the band’s core trio (Donald Johnson, Jez Kerr, and Martin Moscrop) have generated a wealth of modern beats and future-shocked textures, all while remaining in touch with their trademark spongy grooves and sharp rhythmic corners.

But this bleeding-edge sensibility has roots in the past: Opener “All Comes Down to This” combines spiky treated guitar with an elastic rhythm section and warping synth effects that immediately recall Brian Eno circa Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), the album that inspired the band’s name. Other tracks have a looser, more panoramic feel: “God Knows” offers an open-hearted synth melody that suggests former scene rivals New Order or even poppier contemporaries like Simple Minds. Spoken-word boho trip-hop, tense and twisty warehouse dub, even rowdy dancefloor psych-pop along the lines of the Soup Dragons or E.M.F.—it’s all here. And if that sometimes makes the album seem like a survey course in British underground music of the last 40 years, well, seldom has getting educated been such a blast. 

The lyrics can likewise take a reflective turn, with the band reminiscing about pre-Internet adolescence on the languidly funky “Estate Kings.” Elsewhere, they showcase a sly, confrontational wit: “Heterosexuality’s not normal / It’s just common / A bit like me,” they sing on elegiac closer “Dorothy Says.” 

Nearly a half-century into their run, A Certain Ratio have plenty to teach but remain eager to learn—and, above all, to keep the party going. – GRADE: B

You can check out It All Comes Down to This at Bandcamp and elsewhere.