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Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s “Unfinished Master Piece” Innovative, Inspired and Authentic

New Lee 'Scratch' Perry EP demonstrates musical vitality of dub-reggae pioneer.

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Renowned dub-reggae pioneer, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – also know as “the Super Ape”,  “the Granddaddy of Them All” and “The Upsetter” – comes out swinging in his latest EP, “The Unfinished Master Piece”, released on the INgrooves label.  Produced by Born Free and The Next Room, the EP features five tracks – the second more than 11 minutes long – so it’s not quite a single, and it’s not quite an album.  Judging from its quality, however, had this been a full length, it might have been the biggest Perry comeback album since “From My Secret Laboratory” in 1990. 

Perry opens with “Soul Man” a subtle and gorgeous lounge-dub track, complete with ultra-slick snake tongued basslines, house piano, and backup women vocalists.  The second track, “Medusa”, takes on an epic format that has become standard fare for Perry that his fans will recognize, a lyrical improvisation on a given theme, drifting into a kind of deep trance groove accompanied by a massive bassline for over 10 minutes.  The affect is of going on a dark night of the soul through the swampy spiritual jungle of the unconscious mind.  Born Free and The Next Room’s production really stands out in this track, though it’s impressive throughout the whole release, employing many of the techniques pioneered by the Mad Professor, while maintaining a sound distinctly their own.  The high-fidelity distortion in particular made the whole production sound new and updated for 2010.

The EP climaxes with the third track, “Forgiveness,” one of the deepest tracks I’ve heard Perry make since the mid-90s.  Admittedly, I haven’t listened to everything he’s released this decade, although this release makes me want to take a second look.  Opening with “The gift of God is eternal life”, Perry declares “the way to life is forgiveness”.   The track traverses several spiritual summits, the most sublime to my mind were the lines that seemed to diagnose the sickness of our society far more accurately than any psychologist or psychiatrist ever could: “Deliver us from cocaine / Deliver us from pain / Deliver us from shame”.  These moving lines seemed to penetrate right to the spiritual illness of our society, egoism, fuelled by the soul killing drug cocaine.  In this respect, Perry shows himself to be a true doctor of the soul, whose music is meant to heal and give hope to the spiritually lost.

The last two tracks are two versions of a song called “Mr. Upsetter", credited to Born Free though still "featuring Lee Perry". In these light hearted, soulful tracks, Perry gives voice to his own interlocutor who responds to the question: “Do you want to know me?” with “Yes I do”, creating a heart warming song with a really great vibe.  Again, this is music for healing souls. 

Overall, despite its deep messages, the album has a nice lightness which I've come to associate with the musical zeitgeist of the last few years, a light hearted response to the heavy techno minimalism of the 1990s. One might think of it as a musical equivalent to the multicolored paint-splotched Apple ads of the last couple of years.  What I find truly remarkable, however, is the fact that this 74 year old man, who’s already proved himself as one of the greatest and most influential musical geniuses of the 20th century, is reinventing himself once again. In my view this gives the religiosity of his music an unusual credibility, as it demonstrates the reality of a man who’s truly inspired, evoking Plato’s notion of “divine madness” from the Phaedrus:

If anyone comes to the gates of poetry and expects to become an adequate poet by acquiring expert knowledge of the subject without the Muses’ madness, he will fail, and his self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds.

And by some force, it seems as though Perry is in a constant state of inspiration.  One wonders if he writes down his lyrics at all or if it’s all rattled off from the top of his head (I suspect the latter).   I’ve long maintained that Perry is the closest thing our world has to a living prophet, and this release reconfirms this notion in my mind. One of Perry’s great contributions is that he reminds us that the soul is real, the beauty of his art acting as both evidence and proof.  It seems clear that to Perry music and poetry is an expression as well as an affirmation of the divine.

More Mr. Upsetter! More!  The world needs you.