With the Creation reissues of A Certain Ratio's catalog becoming increasingly tough to track down and with the post-punk revival going on around the time of its release, Early arrived right on time. Despite an uneven discography and an inexplicably numerous string of Joy Division comparisons, ACR was an excellent -- if inconsistent -- post-punk band that exemplified a spectacular movement against the old rock guard. In reality, it only seems right to refer to the ACR captured here as a post-punk band for chronology's sake. They came after the punk explosion of 1977, yet they had hardly anything in common with that movement. At their best, they used rock instrumentation to sound little like a rock band, laying a combination of disco, funk, and Latin percussion as the foundation of their sound. They hardly took a cue from punk, evidenced as early on as their second single, a cover of Banbarra's "Shack Up." Early, an assemblage of key moments and rarities that ends with 1985, is one of those compilations that makes no overt commitment to the fanatic or the curious -- an issue that's probably exacerbated by the inclusion of five Peel Session selections. As a result, four songs are presented in two versions, eating up space that could have been taken up by other highlights. The only case where this overlap can be excused is "All Night Party," their first single; the studio version is a drumless din of Mancunian miserableness, while the Peel Session version is given the death disco treatment with drums from Donald Johnson, who wasn't on board at the time of the song's original recording. It would be a bit of a cop-out on the part of the Soul Jazz label to view the second disc -- the one with the B-sides, rarities, and Peel Session material -- merely as the icing on the cake, the bonus. Though Early goes for the price of a single disc, the space provided could have been used a bit better. The discs are far from maxed-out content-wise, and there are a handful of damnable exclusions. However, this bizarre restraint might have more to do with the future of the ACR catalog than a few boneheaded decisions. All things considered, there is no shortage of great material here, and the packaging is phenomenal. A short film documenting the band's first trip to New York City is also included.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
feat: Sir Horatio