REVIEW: Lee Perry & Subatomic Sound System – Super Ape Returns To Conquer

Oh! What a wonder. At 81 years of age (and as he says himself: ‘still getting younger’), to be alive and well and taking to the stage and the studio with gusto and impact is quite the achievement. So, good man Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – long may the Gods let you survive and thrive. Your presence and produce is still most worthy and much appreciated.

In this, his latest incarnation, Perry revisits his 1976 ‘Super Ape’ classic, renowned for its reverb and delay effect. Barrow and Dalton’s ‘Reggae: The Rough Guide’, concludes that the original of the species was ‘one of the most progressive and imaginative sets of its time … Those who dismissed it for being over-produced missed the point entirely’.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Subatomic Sound System – Super Ape Returns To Conquer

Echo Beach, Subatomic Sound

Review by Gerry McMahon

Well, whilst the bad news is that the revamped version may not cause the same stir as the original 41 years ago, the good news is that it still sounds progressive, imaginative and certainly not overproduced! Some of the credit for this must surely go to Emch and his Subatomic Sound System out of New York City. Comparing the 2 releases, Emch (the System’s driving force) explains that ‘the main difference is the bass and beats are more prominent.’ That is, with heightened energy levels ‘it’s Super Ape for the sound system generation’.

In keeping with Perry’s creativity, this release is no slavish reworking or track-by-track reproduction of the original masterpiece. When the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper asked Perry about ‘copying’ he explained: ‘Well, my music comes from God. Me nah copy no man. Me listen to nature and the sounds of nature are God’s music. So, my music is God’s music and it will never get old and it will never die’. Too true.

In truth, this is a new and inspired take on some legendary tracks, with the benefit of extensive and varied musical experiences and the latest in super-duper technology. Or as Emch explains: ‘it was to adapt a slow hypnotic album to a hype live show, while still maintaining the vibes that make the music special. Like an alternate version.’ For example, on the ‘new’ take on ‘Zion’s Blood’, Emch and Scratch successfully heighten the song’s impact via energised percussion or stick work, warmer (Ethiopian) horns, tight guitar playing and appropriately intermittent synthesiser inputs. Whilst Perry’s vocals – never his strong point – are used strategically and sparingly, the booming bass and beats – as befits modern music makers – are present and correct throughout.

The original ‘Super Ape’ set included dub versions of two of reggae’s most popular tracks – Max Romeo’s ‘Chase The Devil’ – with Jahdan Blakkamoore and Screechy Dan on vocals this time round – and ‘War Ina Babylon’ . As evidenced by the revised versions in this release, they seem to get better with time. Other highlights from this album’s listing include the Heptones’ ‘Dread Lion’ and the classy ‘Underground Roots’ that benefits hugely from a haunting vocal input from Ari Up of the Slits. Another special treat for dub aficionados is the inclusion of four familiar tracks in a strictly no vocals – but lots of sweet sound innovations – format.

This release was recorded at Perry’s New Ark in Jamaica and co-produced by Subatomic Sound System’s Emch. On the recording Perry volunteers vocals and inspiration, leaving Emch to elicit harmonies via the melodica, guitar, bass, keys, beats, sirens, echoes and effects, whilst the album also features the System’s members (who frequently back Perry in concert), including Larry McDonald (congas, percussions, vocals), Screechy Dan (vocals), Jahdan Blakkamoore (vocals), Omar Little (trumpet, cornet) and Tory Shaka Simms (sax).

That the Subatomic Sound System should seize the opportunity for this revision is a mark of respect for Perry, the godfather of dub. It is also a most welcome addition to Perry’s already spilling over treasure trunk.

Track list
01. New Ark Subatomic Energy
02. Zion’s Blood
03. Chase the Devil
04. War Ina Babylon
05. Dread Lion
06. Patience Dub
07. Super Ape
08. Curly Dub (Sing Along Jah Jah Children)
09. Underground Roots
10. Dub Along
11. Go Deya (Three In One)
12. So It Conquer
13. Croaking Lizard (Dubstrumental Mix)
14. Black Vest (Dubstrumental Mix)
15. Super Ape (Dubstrumental Mix)
16. Dread Lion (Dubstrumental Mix)