Reggae’s most influential outsider stays weird
Lee “Scratch” Perry has made a name for himself in the reggae world as both the oddball of the scene and as one of the genre’s most important producers. He was born all the way back in 1936 in Kendal, Jamaica, and his music career began in the late 1950s. He first gained notoriety in 1968 for his debut single using a crying baby sample, and all the music that followed, both his own and the artists he produced, became known for its eccentricity.
Perry’s biggest contribution to reggae was in the 1970s when he first built his home studio The Black Ark. Inside its recording room artists like Bob Marley, Junior Byles and Max Romeo honed their craft. Sadly, Perry cracked under the stress near the end of the decade and allegedly burned it down (a claim his family disputes). He resurfaced in England in the 1980s, and now at age 83 still continues to record and produce, the most recent release being 2019’s Rainford.
Upon first glance, Rainford is an incredibly diverse alt-reggae album, but for Perry, it’s completely on brand. For Rainford, he worked with British producer Adrian Sherwood, who he originally teamed up with in the ’80s.
Despite being 83, Perry is energetic and playful throughout the entire album. Before the first notes of the simple opener “Cricket On The Moon” chime in, he instructs the listener that they must repent. The core sound is a more electronic-based reggae feel, the best example of which is “Let It Rain.” “Run Evil Spirit” then brings horns into the party.
Perry’s weirdest moments, however, come on “Makumba Rock” (where he informs England that Charles will never be king), a slow bouncy vamp filled with off-kilter phrases. Another crazy song is “Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers,” which starts out pretty normal but ends with a descent into random catatonic screaming. Closing out the nine-song set is the long and winding “Autobiography of the Upsetter,” where Perry details many elements of his colorful life.
Whether people wind up liking the music or not, Rainford is a confusing, head-scratching, and fun album from a guy who’s spent eight decades perfecting the unpredictable.