Melody Maker | Album | 27 April 1991 | Photo: Phil Nicholls
GARY CLAIL & THE ON-U SOUND SYSTEM
THE EMOTIONAL HOOLIGAN
It's funny how what began as Gary Clail's attempt to stop his big gob getting him into trouble and find a use for some rough demos, out-takes and dub versions recorded by the ragbag crew signed to his old mate Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound label has ended up on "Top Of The Pops". Still, a hit has been on the cards for well over a year now, ever since Paul Oakenfold declared himself to be a long-time On-U fan and signed Clail to his RCA-backed Perfecto imprint. It should really have come last year with "Beef".
Oakenfold deserves much of the credit for Gary Clail's current success and "The Emotional Hooligan" naturally includes his remixes of "Beef" and "Human Nature", but Oakie is smart enough to leave the rest of the album in the more than capable hands of the On-U posse. As well as Sherwood at the controls, there are contributions from three of the four other members of Tackhead (Keith LeBlanc is the missing man), Bim Sherman, Akabu, David Harrow, Style Scott from Roots Radics and Bubblers from Aswad. The result is a collection of sound system tracks as opposed to club tunes. There's a hell of a difference and those unfamiliar with Clail's work before "Human Nature" are in for a surprise.
Take the experimental reggae of the opening track, "Food, Clothes And Shelter". The beats are slow and solid, the bass guitar supplies the main melody, and all manner of bizarre whistles, bleeps, boings and warped guitar noises are flicked in and out of the mix, almost at random. Beautiful vocal harmonics gel the various elements together, but they cannot sweeten Clail's warning that the greed of multi-national corporations are taking precedence over basic human needs. Although there seems to be little optimism here, the dub version, "Part 2: Monk Track", is a determined call to action: "This is a war against those who pollute my skies, my seas, and most of all me".
Clail's love of reggae is apparent throughout. "False Leader" (which only appears on the CD) features samples of Big Youth and the weight of the rhythms of the title track and "Rumours" are enough to crush most listeners at several hundred paces. "Rumours" is an anti-Gulf War song and it would be tempting to dismiss it as out of date were it not for the rights and wrongs of that war remaining very much in the public mind. Anyway, a bloody battle is undoubtedly raging somewhere else in the world right at this minute. "Crocodile Eyes" and "Temptation" have more personal slants and are best described as hip hop tracks, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of rumbling bass sounds, keyboard skanks and raw dub rubs.
Despite these great tracks, the inclusion of the irritating "Magic Penny", the vocals of which are handled by Sherwood's little girl, is a terrible idea. The last thing we want is for Gary Clail to start coming on cute. The too clean, too tidy and too techno oriented "Escape" sounds similarly out of place, essentially because it totally lacks the human touch, the touch that has set On-U apart from most of the other dance sounds of recent years.
New fans might be disappointed with Clail's monotone voice and the clumsy nature of many of his rhymes. But he's never claimed to be a singer or a poet. He's a toaster and what he has to say is far more important than the delivery. Moreover, with "Human Nature" still riding high in the charts, these simple and highly effective political slogans are being heard by people who've probably never even thought about why Argentina's main export is beef. At long last, Gary Clail can be called truly subversive.