Cupid & Psyche 85

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Cupid & Psyche 85
Studio album by Scritti Politti
Released 10 June 1985
Recorded 1983–1985 at Minot Sound, The Power Station, Atlantic in New York; Eden, Wessex Sound, Sarm West, Sarm East in London
Genre New wave, synthpop, blue-eyed soul, sophisti-pop, synth-funk
Length 38:50 (LP)
63:11/62:40 (CD)
Label Virgin (UK)
Warner Bros. (US)
Producer Scritti Politti and Arif Mardin
Scritti Politti chronology
Songs to Remember
(1982)
Cupid & Psyche 85
(1985)
Provision
(1988)
Singles from Cupid & Psyche 85
  1. "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)"
    Released: 24 February 1984
  2. "Absolute"
    Released: 29 May 1984
  3. "Hypnotize"
    Released: 2 November 1984
  4. "The Word Girl"
    Released: 29 April 1985
  5. "Perfect Way"
    Released: 27 August 1985

Cupid & Psyche 85 is the second album by the British/American new wave pop group Scritti Politti, released in the UK on Virgin Records on 10 June 1985.[1]

It remains the band's most successful album, reaching No. 5 in the UK, and was certified Gold by the BPI for 100,000 copies sold. The album contained five singles, three of which were top 20 hits in the UK. The single "Perfect Way", while not a major UK chart success, was a surprise hit in the US, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in a 25-week run on the chart. Miles Davis covered it on his 1986 album Tutu.

Background[edit]

Scritti Politti's debut album Songs to Remember had been released in September 1982, but even before the album's release frontman Green had expressed in interviews his frustration at the limitations of being signed to an independent label like Rough Trade Records. After Songs to Remember he began to talk to major record labels, a move reluctantly supported by Rough Trade who wanted to keep him but realised they could not support him financially with the budget for the type of record that Green wanted to make.[2] At the same time Green had been distancing himself from the Marxist collective that Scritti Politti had originated from, and by the time of the album's release Scritti Politti was effectively his solo vehicle, the other original members having left during the album's recording or shortly afterwards.

During the recording of Songs to Remember Rough Trade had introduced Green to New Yorker David Gamson. Gamson was a keyboard player/programmer and an assistant engineer for the label who had used some studio downtime to record a demo version of the Archies' 1969 hit song "Sugar, Sugar". Green and Gamson hit it off and decided that they would work together in future as they had similar ideas about the type of music they wanted to make. In 1983 the duo travelled to Gamson's home city of New York and met up with another New Yorker, drummer Fred Maher, to put together a new version of Scritti Politti. Maher remembered, "I'll never forget the first time I saw Green. It was in the studio in New York and he came up to me and said 'hello, I'm Green, I'm terrible'. He'd been out the night before with Marc Almond and he looked a bit the worse for wear."[3] The trio recorded two songs, "Small Talk" and "L Is for Lover", both produced by Nile Rodgers, which they hoped to put out as a new Scritti Politti single. However, due to the legal battle involving Green's release from his contract with Rough Trade, the single was never released. "Small Talk" would eventually appear as a track on Cupid & Psyche 85, while "L Is for Lover" was recorded by US jazz singer Al Jarreau and released as the title track of his 1986 album.

Undaunted by this setback, Green remained in New York with his new musical partners, and with the help of his new manager Bob Last he finally resolved his problems with Rough Trade and signed major label deals with Virgin Records in the UK and with Warner Bros. Records in North America. He also used the time to set up meetings with musicians and producers that he wanted to work with, later recalling, "I seemed to get put in touch with anybody I wanted to meet and they were all very enthusiastic".[4]

Recording[edit]

Following the signing of the new record deals, the band remained in New York and recorded three songs with producer Arif Mardin: "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)", "Absolute" and "Hypnotize", all of which would later become singles from the new album. Green told NME, "He was the producer I most wanted to work with. We sent him some demos and he liked them very much and wanted to do it. It was his work with people like Chaka Khan over the past few years that made me want to work with Arif. Her version of 'We Can Work It Out' – incredible! He's a very kind man, the most gentlemanly man I've met. In some ways we were a little too polite to each other and he certainly didn't exert any pressure on me. All the arrangements for the songs were worked out in advance."[4]

Writing and composition[edit]

The first single to be released from the album was "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" in February 1984, its subtitle alluding to the Aretha Franklin song "I Say a Little Prayer" which producer Arif Mardin had also worked on. Asked about the change in musical direction Green admitted, "if you'd played me 'Wood Beez' six years ago I think I'd have spat at it or something. But I like change."[5] He described the song as "very complicated, it's the whole question of what pop is; its relationship to language, power and politics. It's also a question of music's transgression and abuse of some of the rules of language. Aretha was singing what are arguably inane pop songs and had left her gospel roots. But she sang them with a fervour, a passion, though I hate to use that word because it's been hideously tarred in recent usage. To a committed materialist whose interest had come round to language again – perhaps because of a bankruptcy in Marxism to deal with ideology or any artistic community – hearing her was as near to a hymn or a prayer as I could get. Obviously I couldn't make that point in a three minute pop song."[6]

After releasing "Absolute" and "Hypnotize" as the follow-up singles, there was a gap of six months before "The Word Girl" was released as the fourth single, just ahead of the album. "The Word Girl" was the biggest hit single from the album in the UK and harked back to Scritti Politti's 1981 single "The 'Sweetest Girl'" in its reggae-based rhythm and its attempt to deconstruct the use of the word 'girl' in everyday language and in pop songs. Green told Sounds, "I was taking stock of all the lyrics of the songs for the new album and, lo and behold, in every song there was – this girl, or that girl. It seemed a good idea to show awareness of the device being used, to take it out of neutral and show it didn't connote or denote certain things. It was important to admit a consciousness of the materiality of referring to 'girls' in songs."[7] The single's B-side "Flesh and Blood" (which also appeared as one of the four bonus tracks on the cassette and CD versions of Cupid & Psyche 85) was the same musical backing of "The Word Girl" but with a new lyric written and sung by militant south London reggae MC Ranking Ann (real name Ann Swinton). Green explained that the idea was to present the alternative female view of the male construct of 'girl': "Having heard Ann's two albums, I thought she'd like the sentiments of the song rather than approve of the rhythmics. I knew she was stroppy, but it's positive. She saw she'd be giving her counsel to a completely different audience – teenagers. Which I think is great. It complements what we've done on the other side."[7] The single's sleeve reinforced the point being made in the lyrics: fragments of the label of Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" single and a section of Écrits by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan with the word "chain" prominent in both, superimposed on a picture of Shirley MacLaine from the film My Geisha dressed as a bride and wearing an expression of resignation on her face.

Although Scritti Politti had embraced the musical mainstream, Green's lyrics were often still preoccupied with the contradiction of becoming more distant from the reality of a person the more one became in love with the idealised version of that person, summed up on the album track "A Little Knowledge" by the line "Now I know to love you is not to know you".[8] This contradiction was reflected in the album's title, referring to the myth of the two ancient Greek gods who were destined to never be able to truly love each other. Green explained in interviews that "there is a fable, the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and the deal was that they would stay in love as long as they never tried too hard to find out too much about each other – they should just enjoy each other's company and not make demands. But that's what they made the mistake of doing, so Cupid fled, for some reason, and Psyche was sent around the world for eternity to find him. Although, at the very end of the legend, they do get reconciled... But in our society, Cupid has now come to stand for 'romance' and Psyche for 'hidden lurking depths', so of course it would've been preposterous to call the album Cupid and Psyche. But putting '85 after it makes it... perfectly cool. It makes it awfully sensible."[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[9]
Melody Maker very favourable[10]
NME unfavourable[11]
Robert Christgau A−[12]
Rolling Stone average[13]
Sounds 4.75/5 stars[14]
Spin very favourable[15]

Reviews for Cupid & Psyche 85 were generally positive. In a reference to the lyrics of "The Sweetest Girl" Melody Maker said, "It may not be the sweetest sound in all the world... but it's close. In pursuit of the silkier sensations to be cut from the sow's ear of pop, Scritti's Green has finally let the slide rule slip and succumbed to sensuality. His guerrilla days as the post-Marxist irritant of his peculiarly capitalist trade [...] aren't completely lost, of course. He's still aware of the irony of his role, and nagging snatches of guilt and cries of conscience continually pepper Cupid, subverting its aims." There was some criticism that the album contained three tracks that had been released as singles the previous year, but overall felt that "as a free-standing product, this is pop as it should be: smart, sweet but not sickly, rich and seductive, exotic, teasing, tempting and, judging by its persistent insinuation onto my Walkman, a durable, desirable thrill".[10] Awarding the album "4¾ stars out of 5", Sounds wrote, "If you only indulge yourself in one smooth, non-alternative, chainstore pop album this year, make it this".[14] However, NME dismissed Green's wordplay as insincere: "In his pop music, he plays with the language of the medium, both verbal and musical, in a way which implicitly criticises the way the language was used originally... Unfortunately, when this kind of post-modernist dissection is applied to affairs of the heart it can't help but come across hollow and artificial, because it's getting further removed from the business of actually moving, of authentic emotional experience." The review concluded, "Despite the use of possibly unusual textural elements like glockenspiel and steel pan sounds, they're not put together in a way that shoots even a sideways glance away from the dull, drab, sickly pop of the past few years".[11]

In the US Spin stated that "no disco was ever this sublime" and that Green's mixture of pop music and intellectualism "benefits us by teaching us the vocabulary of emotion. Green's gilded, fabricated palace of sentiment makes you want to know more about these matters even as his clever-dick wordplay, woozy vocals and slick manipulation of modern dance music's subtlest syncopations lead you onto some empty dance floor of the soul."[15] Rolling Stone was cooler towards the record, acknowledging that Scritti Politti's new direction worked well on "Wood Beez" and "Absolute", but that "the rest of Cupid & Psyche 85 isn't deviant enough. Green has absorbed the lessons of dance masters like Arif Mardin so well that he often imitates the very formulas he seeks to undermine... Stylishly wrought, at times delightfully eccentric, Cupid & Psyche 85 is ultimately too true to its form to be genuinely subversive."[13]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks composed by Green Gartside, except where indicated.

LP[edit]

Side one[edit]

  1. "The Word Girl" (Gartside, David Gamson) – 4:24
  2. "Small Talk" (Gartside, Gamson) – 3:39
  3. "Absolute" – 4:25
  4. "A Little Knowledge" – 5:02
  5. "Don't Work That Hard" – 3:59

Side two[edit]

  1. "Perfect Way" (Gartside, Gamson) – 4:33
  2. "Lover to Fall" – 4:13 [UK Version]; 3:52 [US Version - Remixed]
  3. "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" – 4:48
  4. "Hypnotize" [Short Version] (Gartside, Gamson) – 3:34

Cassette[edit]

Side one[edit]

  1. "The Word Girl" (Gartside, David Gamson) – 4:24
  2. "Small Talk" (Gartside, Gamson) – 3:39
  3. "Absolute" – 4:25
  4. "A Little Knowledge" – 5:02
  5. "Don't Work That Hard" – 3:59
  6. "Flesh & Blood" (Gartside, Gamson, Ann Swinton) – 5:35
  7. "Absolute" (version) – 6:11

Side two[edit]

  1. "Perfect Way" (Gartside, Gamson) – 4:33
  2. "Lover to Fall" – 4:13 [UK]; 3:52 [US]
  3. "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" – 4:48
  4. "Hypnotize" [Short Version] (Gartside, Gamson) – 3:34
  5. "Wood Beez" (version) – 5:56
  6. "Hypnotize" (version) – 6:34

CD[edit]

  1. "The Word Girl" (Gartside, David Gamson) – 4:24
  2. "Small Talk" (Gartside, Gamson) – 3:39
  3. "Absolute" – 4:25
  4. "A Little Knowledge" – 5:02
  5. "Don't Work That Hard" – 3:59
  6. "Perfect Way" (Gartside, Gamson) – 4:43 [UK CD - Remixed]; 4:33 [US CD]
  7. "Lover to Fall" – 4:13 [UK]; 3:52 [US]
  8. "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" – 4:48
  9. "Hypnotize" [Short Version] (Gartside, Gamson) – 3:34
  10. "Flesh & Blood" (Gartside, Gamson, Ann Swinton) – 5:35
  11. "Absolute" (version) – 6:11
  12. "Wood Beez" (version) – 5:56
  13. "Hypnotize" (version) – 6:34

Personnel[edit]

Scritti Politti:

Additional musicians:

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1985) Peak
position
New Zealand Albums (Recorded Music NZ)[16] 12
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[17] 13
UK Albums (OCC)[18] 5
US Billboard 200[19] 50

Singles

Year Single Chart Position
1984 "Wood Beez" New Zealand [20] 26
1984 "Wood Beez" UK [21] 10
1984 "Wood Beez" U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play [22] 4
1985 "Absolute" New Zealand [20] 26
1984 "Absolute" UK [21] 17
1984 "Hypnotize" UK 68
1985 "The Word Girl" New Zealand [20] 18
1985 "The Word Girl" UK [21] 6
1985 "Perfect Way" UK 48
1985 "Perfect Way" US Billboard Hot 100[22] 11
1985 "Perfect Way" U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play [22] 6
1986 "Wood Beez" US Billboard Hot 100 [22] 91

References[edit]

  1. ^ Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media): 3. 8 June 1985. 
  2. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2005). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. London, England: Faber and Faber. p. 369. ISBN 978-0-571-21570-6. 
  3. ^ Martin, Peter (5 June 1985). "The Secret History of Scritti Politti". Smash Hits (London, England: EMAP): 12–13. 
  4. ^ a b Cook, Richard (10 March 1984). "Say a little prayer for Green". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 29. 
  5. ^ Martin, Peter (29 March 1984). "Green". Smash Hits (London, England: EMAP): 24. 
  6. ^ Martin, Gavin (1 June 1984). "Psyched Out". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 10–11. 
  7. ^ a b c Roberts, Chris (18 May 1985). "Word Play". Sounds (London, England: Spotlight Publications): 22–23. 
  8. ^ Reynolds (2005). p. 417.
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85 > Review at AllMusic
  10. ^ a b Sutherland, Steve (15 June 1985). "Review: Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media): 31. 
  11. ^ a b Gill, Andy (15 June 1985). "Review: Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 26. 
  12. ^ Robert Christgau review
  13. ^ a b Fricke, David (26 September 1985). "Review: Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". Rolling Stone (New York City, USA: Wenner Media LLC) (457): 103. 
  14. ^ a b Roberts, Chris (15 June 1985). "Review: Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". Sounds (London, England: Spotlight Publications): 38. 
  15. ^ a b Gehr, Richard (September 1985). "Review: Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". Spin (New York City, USA: Spin Media LLC) 1 (5): 29. 
  16. ^ "Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". Charts.org.nz. Hung Medien. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
  17. ^ "Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85". Swedishcharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
  18. ^ "Scritti Politti | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
  19. ^ "Billboard 200, retrieved from "Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85" Awards at Allmusic". Billboard 200 (United States: Nielsen Business Media). Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
  20. ^ a b c "Scritti Politti Singles". charts.org.nz. Hung Medien. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  21. ^ a b c "Scritti Politti Singles". everyhit.com. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Scritti Politti > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Macrovision. Retrieved 2010-07-05.