premiere: lee “scratch” perry upsets the “angels”

May 15, 2019
301 Picks

It is weird to “welcome” Lee “Scratch” Perry’s return, because it’s not like dub reggae’s Mighty Upsetter had actually gone anywhere. He’s never stopped being involved in a consistent stream of releases, whether classic wonders from a deep archive that stretches the length of Jamaica’s music history, or contemporary speak-squawk oddities made with a flurry of collaborators, some worthy and some pretend. Scratch has also continued playing far more live shows than one would expect from an octogenarian with his hard life’s track record.

Yet the new single, “House of Angels,” and Rainford, the album it is taken from, still feel like unexpected miracles, because under the auspices of UK’s own dub mastermind, Adrian Sherwood, Perry seems to have re-settled into a cohesive might that had been waning to and fro. In the pre-release quotes, Sherwood, who’s worked with Perry on-off since 1983, has said that, “It’s the most intimate album Lee has ever made, but at the same time the musical ideas are very fresh.” And if the former bit sounds like hyperbole, “House of Angels” is proof that the latter may not be.

With a tight, heavy, melodic dub skank as the backdrop, and a small choir of voices bringing the beauty of harmony to the chorus, the song’s bedrock is not dissimilar to what “Scratch” created for the Wailers and the Congos: a natural mix of the pretty and the weird. It is a potent brew to which he adds his own magnificent brand of oblivion wordplay, all centered on the idea of “complaining” and “not complaining.” It alternates between playful and prophetic, the center rarely holding yet the hook never disappearing.

Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Rainford drops on On-U Sound at the end of May.