A Certain Ratio, "Houses in Motion" (Mute)
In light of Mute Records' extensive reissue campaign of Manchester post-funk group A Certain Ratio's catalog, some interesting archival obscurities have been surfacing. A prime example is ACR's cover of Talking Heads' "Houses in Motion," which you can find on the 40th-anniversary release, acr:box (out May 3). A chilling slice of stealthy, Fourth World funk, this song off 1980's Brian Eno-produced Remain in Light would've landed smack-dab in ACR's wheelhouse during their early-'80s peak. So, it makes sense they would tackle it, even while realizing it'd be hard to surpass the original.
The kicker to the story—and what makes the idea to cover "Houses in Motion" so enticing—was that ACR initially enlisted daunting diva Grace Jones to sing the song. How perfect would her imposing deadpan have been? Alas, the session she did with ACR at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, England, was never finished, so bassist Jez Kerr's pallid guide vocals had to suffice.
Despite this letdown, ACR's "Houses in Motion" sounds great, flaunting a much springier rhythm and a more bulbous bass line than the Heads' original, with the band's trademark wilting horns casting a weird crepuscular aura to the proceedings. The spare funk matrix they construct here sounds oddly modern, like something Pharrell Williams or Mark Ronson might produce this decade for a chart-dwelling pop/R&B singer. As cool as this rendition is, though, one can't help wishing Ms. Jones had followed through.