Orange Juice - Rip It Up - Review
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critics' view

Pop music in the 1980s has a lot to answer for. It was a decade of cocaine-fuelled, needlessly glossy overproduction, a time in which it seems every drum on a major label record was required to be replaced by heavily treated synthetic beats. Music videos began their rapid journey from short films paired with music to bloated excuses for David Lee Roth to hang out with midgets. Worst of all, it was a decade in which the worst excesses of the music industry were rewarded, with far too many creative souls destroyed by passing trends and bad hairstyles. But as with any broad historical record, there’s more exceptions to the rule than you’d think. Case in point: Scotland’s Orange Juice.

Originally formed in Glasgow in 1976 by Edwyn Collins as the Nu-Sonics, the band was rechristened Orange Juice at the end of the decade and swiftly became a leading light of the independent music scene. First signed to Postcard Records along with simpatico band Josef K, Orange Juice released several singles before jumping to major label Polydor for their debut album. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever managed to make it to #21 on the UK charts with a combination of pop craftsmanship, twee lyrics and liberal dashes of funk filtered through Talking Heads. But their second album, Rip It Up, was their true breakthrough.

By this point, Orange Juice had lost founding members James Kirk and Steven Daly, replaced by Josef K’s Malcolm Ross and drummer Zeke Manyika. The subsequent quartet of Collins, Ross, Manyika and bassist David McClymont brought a new sound to Rip It Up, one that combined the still-novel sound of synthesizers with warm Motown homage. The album begins with the title track, the band’s only Top 10 hit, an infectious piece of pure pop fusing a Nile Rodgers-style guitar riff with an understated synth and Collins’ idiosyncratic vocals. It’s catchy as hell, having as much to do with American funk as it did the post-punk scene they were lumped into, while still acting as a manifesto for the album ahead: it’s a new start for the band, going in any direction they damn well feel like.

Rip It Up shifts from genre to genre with dizzying speed, jumping from the proto-New Wave of the title track to the African-inflected vocal rush of “A Million Pleading Faces” courtesy of the Zimbabwe-born Manyika. A highlight of the album, “Mud in Your Eye” opens with an organ straight out of Marvin Gaye’s playbook before becoming an acidly romantic duet between Collins and Ross. The two sing over each, Collin’s deep, lugubrious voice mumbling under Ross’ higher histrionics, trading off on the droll, “And if you ask me to explain/ The rules of the game/ I’ll say you’ve missed the point again/ And again.” The ominous, melancholy “Breakfast Time” follows, Collins now sounding almost sinister. But the album’s crowning point is the joyful “I Can’t Help Myself,” a half-sincere, half-tongue in cheek love song, which manages to combine meta-referential lyrics, a nod to the Four Tops and legendary saxophonist Dick Morrissey’s fevered horn in just over five minutes.

Upon its release in 1983, Rip It Up was seen as something of a sellout album, swathed in heavy production and committing the ultimate indie crime of being released on a major label. But its British-white-boy-sings-Motown was just on the cusp of popularity in the UK, with the Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” topping the charts earlier in the year and Spandau Ballet’s definitive “True” following the next. What seemed like an indie band giving into major label indulgence was actually the sound of a band making a great leap forward, fusing musical sensibilities into an eccentric new sound. Though it didn’t make the commercial splash as was hoped, Rip It Up would be Orange Juice’s creative peak; another lineup change would result in a lackluster final album entitled The Orange Juice, while Collins would briefly find success as a solo act. But far from being the sellout the ever-hyperbolic guardians of music may have claimed, Rip It Up remains a brilliant, unheralded album from a band that never got its due.

Nathan Kamal
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