A Certain Ratio

It All Comes Down To This

The Manchester post-punks thirteenth album might just be their best work in forty years, finds Leo Lawton

A Certain Ratio were chewed up and spat out by the music industry for forty years. With their masters in hand, they split with Factory Records in 1986 following a financial squabble with label founder Tony Wilson, whose ‘artist friendly’ no contract ethos meant royalties were never paid. However, Wilson always had the cash to fund two things: hard drugs and Martin Hannett (Factory Records’ de-facto in-house producer whose success with Unknown Pleasures was never extended to a Ratio LP). Next, a major label deal with A&M, where they were dropped following 1989’s Good Together – an expensive and banal non-charter.

They trudged through the 90s and 00s, before signing to Mute for a back-catalogue deal in 2017, which basically means, “we like you, but we’re not paying for you to make new music”. Eventually, the band managed to sway the contract, and thank God they did. ACR’s best work has undoubtedly been produced in the last few years. Peering out from the shadow cast by their Band on the Wall contemporaries Joy Division and The Fall, their thirteenth album It All Comes Down To This is their strongest since 1982’s Sextet.

The album opener and title track sees bassist and vocalist Jez Kerr musing over fears of squandering his potential; an apt, albeit irrational trepidation for a band as prolific as ACR. This standout banger sets the tone for a rhythmically outstanding record, generally over-shadowing the set of often inconsequential themes offered.

‘Surfer Ticket’, a track which wrestles with the impending doom of AI, ventures a little close stylistically to a generic dystopian movie score. Its Boards of Canada-sounding robot impersonations are gimmicky, and the Bruce Forsyth inspired lyric “nice to see you die, to see you die nice” leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Despite this, referencing is typically something the band thrive at. ‘Out From Under’ has the famously funky ACR guitar chank, which, when merged with its distinctive off-beat drum break, sounds like the long-lost twin of ‘Shack Up’ (1980), their most successful single.

Proving that his skills aren’t limited to the sticks alone, Ratio’s drummer Donald Johnson delivers the brilliantly noir ‘Estate Kings’, a spoken-word homage to a youth spent kicking a footy in the coal-stained streets of Manchester.

The album thrives in this specifically dark nostalgic tonality. ‘We All Need’ and ‘God Knows’ similarly echo a yearning for a world devoid of socio-political oppression. The conflict between Moscrop’s bright guitar and Kerr’s dark, rubbery bass create an effective dichotomy on the album, a perplexity between light and dark. This overarching mood best encapsulates a group who’ve been around for fifty years yet have never had a ‘hit’.

It All Comes Down To This is therefore bitter-sweet: not a victory lap, but another gruelling fight in the ring. “I plan to die at the very last minute”, plots Kerr as he re-sharpens his sword in the last verse on the album. It’s a pithy, and pertinent maxim for a group who have maintained such an incredibly loyal, withstanding commitment to their muse. Here, ACR silently call out those who continue to glorify dead post-punk trailblazers. Well, the year is 2024 and dying just isn’t cool anymore.

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