You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe you can remind him of the glories of his youth. Groundbreaking Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry virtually invented the dark seizures of dub in the first half of the 1970s alongside fellow sonic visionaries such as King Tubby but his last truly staggering record is many decades behind him, and his tiresomely eccentric live performances and interviews long ago passed the realm of self-parody.
At the age of 78 he seemed a busted flush, which is why it was such an inspired idea for modern British reggae producer Daniel Boyle to reunite Perry with the vintage recording equipment on which he wrought miracles in his Black Ark studio before burning it to the ground in 1983. Sitting at an analog mixing desk and surrounded by reel-to-reel tape machines and his legendary Mu-tron Bi-Phase phaser pedal, Perry remembers here what it is that he used to do so brilliantly. Manipulating faders and FX pedals and adding hoarse, enjoyably contrary vocals to all-new lolloping tracks such as Rastafari “On Wall Street” and “I Believe,” the original Upsetter serves up a labyrinthine, sporadically mesmerizing masterclass in simultaneously old-school and futuristic dub reggae. It could only be Perry — and this late in the day, it’s far better than we have any right to expect.