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Horace Andy
Midnight Rocker Bernie Brooks , April 18th, 2022 08:46

Legend recognises legend as Horace Andy and Adrian Sherwood unite for the first time on an imperfect yet incredibly compelling LP, says Bernie Brooks

Horace Andy didn’t have to do this. The man is seventy-one years old. He recorded Skylarking. He was on Mezzanine. Dude can coast as far as I’m concerned. Nap, go birdwatching, whatever. Hell, I’m only forty-two, and the amount of effort it took for me to sit down and write something as relatively inconsequential as this record review could be described as colossal. Then again, that’s probably why I’m not legendary roots and dub singer Horace Andy, with scores of albums under my belt, releasing Midnight Rocker, a not-insubstantial full-length collaboration with Adrian Sherwood, in my eighth decade.

For his part, Sherwood might be my favourite producer of all time. Conservatively speaking, in any given year, between my partner and I, we might spend about a hundred hours listening to his stuff around the house (with Head Charge accounting for probably half of that). Anyway, he’s a legend. If the sceptics out there want citations, here’s a very not-definitive, completely off the top of my head rollcall: you’ve got classics from Singer & Players, the aforementioned African Head Charge with Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, Dub Syndicate with Style Scott, New Age Steppers with Ari Up et al, and of course Tackhead; productions for & with Lee “Scratch” Perry, Coldcut, Jeb Loy Nichols, Nissennenmondai, Little Annie, Mark Stewart, Maximum Joy, a bunch of industrial records, plus literally hundreds more. His most well-known label, On-U Sound, which put out a good chunk of his productions, is legendary, too.

So, it seems this is a case of legend recognising legend. What could go wrong? Honestly, not much. Midnight Rocker is a grab bag of reworked Andy originals, new numbers, and a cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Safe From Harm’ – the latter being my favourite track by a healthy margin. Dark and propulsive, it feels as forward-thinking as versioned Massive Attack can.

Though accusations of homophobia have floated around Andy since at least 2008 (when Trojan forced him to remove a track featuring a hacky “Adam & Steve” reference before they’d assent to releasing his On Tour LP), there’s thankfully nothing so retrograde on Rocker. Whether this is a case of personal growth or judiciously keeping one’s mouth shut, it’s impossible to say. Still, there’s naught worthy of controversy here. At worst, on tracks like ‘Materialist’, Andy can come off a bit like a patronising but well-meaning old-timer holding court, offering only simple platitudes and obvious wisdom. For the most part, though, his wonderful voice – a warm and weathered tenor – lends gravity and heft to whatever he’s singing about at any given moment, no matter how weighty or weightless (lines like “there's no such thing as easy money” on ‘Easy Money’ or “you’ve got to live for today” from ‘Today Is Right Here’). And honestly, it doesn’t matter too much that the lyrics veer from nearly sublime to sort of clunky. Andy makes them work.

From a production standpoint, Midnight Rocker is Sherwood at his most tasteful. Here, he mostly favours a full-band dub sound, lending much of the album a weirdly pleasing not-quite-throwback feel. It’s an out-of-time vibe – almost retro-futurist, nearly hauntological. Sherwood leaves Andy plenty of room, careful not to get in the way of his vocals or crowd them out. It’s a tendency that serves the material well, but I can’t help but wish Sherwood had succumbed to some of his more outré impulses more often. When things start to get a little goofy or spaced out, as on ‘Careful’ and ‘Mr Bassie’ respectively, Midnight Rocker absolutely sings.

Ultimately, Midnight Rocker is a worthy, maybe even essential, addition to both Horace Andy and Adrian Sherwood’s massive catalogues. It’s not perfect, but there’s a strange vitality in its imperfection, and that energy, that vitality – whatever it is – is incredibly compelling. Despite my quibbles, it has a pull, and I keep listening. There’s so much potential in this creative pairing, improbably the first collaboration between these two giants. Let’s hope it isn’t the last.