A cough, in rhythm with the beat, then a splutter of coughs that clearly aren’t.
Another cough, again perfectly timed, and then again.
A voice: “This man is totally mad.”
This is how the song Music & Science Madness begins, a once rare dub of a 1987 Lee “Scratch” Perry joint called Music & Science Lovers.
On Music & Science Madness the dub gets very loose, Perry delivers an acid-drenched stream of consciousness, splicing lyrics with scatting and various grunts and growls. There are even moments where Scratch appears to lose his train of thought completely and breaks into infectious laughter. Perry sounds like he doesn’t have a care in the world, like he is filled with love, just in the moment.
The original tune, Music & Science Lovers, appeared on Perry’s collaborative album with Dub Syndicate titled Time Boom X De Devil Dead, released by British label On-U Sound run by producer Adrian Sherwood.
Time Boom X De Devil Dead was out of print and not available digitally for a long time, even though it was seen by many as one of the few decent 1980s albums in the vast back catalogue of dub’s most famous prophet, a discography that self-proclaimed “dean of American rock critics” Robert Christgau called “beyond comprehension”.
However, Music & Science Madness resurfaced on a 2016 album titled Sherwood at the Controls: Volume 2, a compilation of until then rare Sherwood productions recorded between 1985 and 1990.
It’s a little moment of greatness that until 2016 had lain dormant for far too long.
Crickets and thunderstorms
Music & Science Madness is a reminder of the brilliant creative partnership Perry and Sherwood have shared over the past few decades, a partnership that appears to have unexpectedly sprung back to life with a new album this year called Rainford, which is Perry’s birth name.
The playful opening song, Cricket on the Moon, feels like a companion piece to the Music & Science Madness dub, even though three decades separate their recordings. A heavily processed metallic snare, solid stomping bass and a wah-wah guitar hook underpin Perry’s stream-of-consciousness vocals, with Perry crying like a squawking baby and even Mickey Mouse popping up.
Sherwood told The Vinyl Factory in an interview in May that the song was recorded outside at 1am after a thunderstorm, with all the crickets in the background. He says Rainford was put together over several years, with recordings taking place in Jamaica, England and Brazil, after Perry reached out to him and said, “Why don’t we do another record together?”
Perry, now 83 years old, told The Vinyl Factory, “Adrian’s a smart fellow … me choose good-minded people to work with, people with scientifical mind, educational brain, arts and craft, because he’s a scientist, doing music science and music obeah.”
Sherwood’s stellar production on Rainford and Perry’s flitting between provocative seriousness and unhinged playfulness are where the album’s strengths lie. It’s clear that Sherwood and Perry get each other, both music and science lovers in a world of music and science madness.
Makumba Rock, which Sherwood says began live in Brazil 10 years ago, was the starting point for Rainford. In it, Perry rides the yips of a Brazilian cuíca drum, an instrument associated with samba music. He growls, laughs, chants, bleats like a goat and cries like a baby, “I want my mommy.”
On Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers, Perry delivers an attack on our mutant-capitalist nightmare, which is chillingly appropriate for the times as Trump’s ill-advised and ego-driven trade wars rock the global economy.
Corruption of humanity
Sherwood has said in interviews that when Perry refers to the “undead”, which he does many times on the album, he is referring to the living, contrasting them with those who are “dead in spirit”. The corruption of humanity is the overarching theme that emerges from Perry’s psychedelic ramblings.
Run Evil Spirit riffs off the hook from Perry’s 1977 single, Bionic Rats, to set sights on the evil doers of the world, lyrically an update on Max Romeo’s 1976 classic, Chase the Devil, which Perry co-composed and produced.
African Starship is a hallucinatory experience about Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line shipping company embarking on intergalactic voyages, coming across as a grimey mutant strain of an Ethiopian jazz groove with excellent contributions from trumpeter Dave Fullwood and flautist Richard Doswell.
Let it Rain, driven by an echoing snare and a guitar riff, and featuring spiritual choral vocals and cello, functions as a plea for redemption from the evils of Babylon. It’s one of the most exquisite moments on Rainford, a song that feels as though it shares something with the great songs Bob Dylan wrote in the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as Standing in the Doorway and Mississippi.
The album draws to a close with the seven-minute Autobiography of the Upsetter, which sees Perry recalling key events from his life between some playful word associations.
It’s intimate stuff from Perry, who appears to be opening up his soul to his fans in ways that in the past he was reluctant to do.
“People thought I was crazy,” he chants. “Me have me skin black but I’m not crazy … I am a black angel.” Sherwood and Perry’s collaborative partnership over the past 30 years may remain criminally neglected, but Rainford offers us a new chapter in the story, one for the here and now of 2019, and it feels like a downpour sent to nourish us after a long drought.