A godsend if ever there was one, this two-disc reissue set combines three of Lee "Scratch" Perry's quirkiest and most fascinating LPs, 1976's Super Ape and 1978's Return of the Super Ape and Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread, in one package along with seven rare and related bonus tracks. It's all vintage Perry, who was at the peak of his powers as a maverick producer in 1976. His fabled Black Ark Studio in Kingston was up and running by this time and his brilliant production work on Max Romeo's classic War ina Babylon LP and fine sets by the Heptones and Junior Murvin, among others, had made him a cult figure in Britain. Furthermore, he had a potentially lucrative international distribution deal with Chris Blackwell's Island Records for his Black Ark projects. Island released Super Ape in 1976, although Blackwell had to know that this odd but brilliant mix of eccentric jazz and dub had very little commercial potential. It was, however, Top 40 material compared to Perry's sequel to the album, Return of the Super Ape, which seemed to be a random assortment of sax-drenched, ganja-soaked odds and ends, and Blackwell refused to release it. Blackwell also passed on Roast Fish, Perry's vocal project from the same time period. The two 1978 albums were then consequently released as LPs on Perry's own Lion of Judah label, condemning both to hard-to-find import status ever since. Putting all three albums together like this is an obvious move, and kudos go to Trojan/Sanctuary for finally doing what Perry fans have been hoping and praying would happen for some 30 years now. What emerges is a diverse portrait of Perry as the "dub shepherd," a sly and crafty auteur who works a Teac four-track recorder and an Echoplex delay unit like no one before or since, painting an alternate and at times goofy universe of floating vocals, detached horn charts, odd percussion, and eerie mooing sounds that, particularly in the Super Ape tracks (presented here the way Scratch intended them and not in the sequence that Island used in 1976), still manage to convey an ominous political and vaguely Afrocentric statement of personal and cultural independence.
Working off the deep basslines of Boris Gardiner and the rhythms of Mikey Richards, Earl Smith, and Keith Sterling, punctuated by the horns of Bobby Ellis, Herman Marquis, Richard Hall, and Vin Gordon, and buoyed by the impeccable harmonies of the Heptones' Earl Morgan and Barry Llewellyn (not to mention a fine toast from Prince Jazzbo on the wonderful "Croaking Lizard"), Perry makes Super Ape the ultimate late-night chill album with one foot in African history and the other firmly in the space age. Return goes even further, emerging as a casual, offhand piece of dub jazz, full of sax refrains and odd percussion detours. It is wonderful to have its speed corrected here (some of the import versions were so out of sync that they seemed to be made up of gibberish), and while it isn't as fully developed a statement as Super Ape, it is a perfect if somewhat fractured augmentation to it. Roast Fish is similarly informed here, presenting Perry as a vocalist who makes up for what he lacks as a singer with a wry, DJ-styled delivery full of good humor and quirky observations on everything from food, cars, and romance to the shaky economic and political situation in Jamaica. The bonus tracks, which include Clive Hylton's original dubplate of "From Creation" with all known alternate mixes, U-Roy's "OK Corral" single, and the original Jamaican single version of "Roast Fish and Cornbread" along with an alternate mix, are well chosen and they perfectly round out this set. Taken as an archival collection and as the measure of a brilliant, eccentric producer at the absolute top of his game, Ape-ology is essential for Perry fans everywhere, and is a must for any truly complete dub or reggae collection. Challenging, skewed, eerie, beautiful, haunting, defiantly uncommercial, and so far off the beaten path that it seems to come from some other planet or dimension entirely (even by Jamaican standards), the music contained here is like no other. Welcome to Scratch's world.