FUNKY NASSAU : THE COMPASS POINT STORY
On the surface, this compilation is intended to be a broad rundown of a specific studio’s output– that of Compass Point, the Bahamian outpost established by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and manned by a who’s who of reggae session players including the ace production team/rhythm section of Sly & Robbie. But it might as well be a symposium on the polyglot tendencies that made the dance underground of the first half of the 1980s so unpredictably rich in ideas. Name a genre that either established itself or peaked in the late 70s or early 80s– electro-funk, disco, reggae, dub, post-punk, old-school hip-hop– and it’s represented in the music on this compilation, rarely without being comfortably fused to another genre to spectacular effect.
The most well-known cuts on Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986 might as well be shorthand for this type of fusion– Tom Tom Club’s chirpy, blissed-out Caribbean/new wave/rap pastiche “Genius of Love”, Talking Heads’ jittery Afrobeat-inflected digital rave-up “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”, and an extended version of Ian Dury’s BBC-banned “Spasticus Autisticus”, which retorted to Britain’s patronizing declaration of 1981 as “Year of the Disabled” with Spartacus-lifted shouts of solidarity, bitingly arch lyrics (“So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin/ And thank the creator you’re not in the state I’m in”) and a vertigo-inducing bass/synth interplay. There’s just one baffling decision in the famous names department– instead of something from the superb Nightclubbing, Grace Jones’ tenure at Compass Point is represented by the digital reggae of “My Jamaican Guy”, and the combination of her flat singing and the gradual tedium of its seven-minute extended mix makes for an unexciting way to open the compilation.
But Funky Nassau gets better in a hurry, thanks not just to the usual post-punk suspects but also due to the fringe artists, obscurities, and ostensible novelty records (emphasis on novel) that fill out the bulk of the collection. There are two tracks that, thanks largely to house music pioneer François Kevorkian, prove to be the collection’s most surprising highlights. Cuban-born Guy Cuevas’ 1982 France-exclusive “Obsession” piles glimmering keyboards on top of a Bernard Edwards-caliber bassline and comes up with a late-disco gem that sounds triangulated between Havana, Paris, and NYC. And the Kevorkian mix of “Dance Sucker”, the 1983 debut single from Scottish obscurities Set the Tone, sounds like a uprocker’s take on a circa-1988 Nine Inch Nails demo, with a lead singer belting out sneering Reznor-isms (and the occasional Nic Offer-ism) over a packed wall of electro.
Where most of the tracks on Funky Nassau breathe free with loose-jointed smoothness, disco deconstructionist Cristina’s “You Rented a Space” is a claustrophobic slab of electronic dub where the percolating bass and the staggering but sure-footed rhythms practically corner you in a hallway and breathe down your neck. (Cristina’s decadently sly voice knows better, and aims directly at your inner ear: “Your lovin’ is as cold as the cold clasp of death.”) And then there’s Bits & Pieces– basically Sly & Robbie working under an alias- – cranking out a playful but heavy cover of Yarbrough & Peoples’ 1980 hit “Don’t Stop the Music”, replicating its fuzzed-out synth-funk faithfully but throwing in a subtle reggae backbeat and, for kicks, a few likeably daft rap lyrics about hairstyles. The Compass Point sound proved that the sound of the Caribbean could cover just about anywhere– and, at the same time, helped create music that couldn’t have come from anywhere else.
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