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Rip Rig + Panic “Bob Hope Takes Risks” (Virgin, 1981)

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Rip Rig + Panic should be way better known than they are. A British ensemble of wild eccentrics fronted by Don Cherry’s stepdaughter, Neneh Cherry, Rip Rig + Panic named themselves after a Rahsaan Roland Kirk album. And in their own idiosyncratic manner, they carved out as bold an artistic manifesto as the legendary blind jazzman did.

Throughout the first half of the ’80s, RR+P—whose members also played with the Pop Group, New Age Steppers, Slits, African Head Charge, and PiL—overturned the conventions of funk, soul, jazz while fusing them in unconventional ways. Although they released three sporadically brilliant full-lengths, RR+P really flourished on their EPs and singles. Case in point is this crazy 12-inch from the group’s early days. I remember when “Bob Hope Takes Risks” came out, the British weekly music mags lost their shit to it. Then when I copped it, I proceeded to do the same. It was a rare example of extravagant hype being lived up to.

The seven-minute A-side—a paean to some sort of phantasmagorical goddess—gets all your senses tingling from the get-go, with Gareth Sanger scatting and Cherry singing, “She’s got that stuff in her eyes, she’s got it, she’s got it/It’s something you never can buy, she’s got it, she’s got it!” as Sean Oliver’s tunneling bass line and Sanger’s strident string and horn arrangements give the song a strange levitation. It’s a jazz-funk juggernaut with vertiginous dynamics, animated by suspenseful violin/viola/cello motifs that wouldn’t sound out of place in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Mark Springer’s mad, quicksilver piano runs and marauding trombone and tenor saxophone create a brassy forcefield that makes you want to overthrow corrupt governments (sorry for the redundancy). It’s a scandal that this track isn’t played at every ’80s DJ night in the world. Hell, maybe heads still ain’t ready for this sort of baffling club-music surrealism.

The B-side can’t help sounding a bit anticlimactic after the ultimate show-stopper, “Bob Hope Takes Risks.” But “Hey Mr. E! A Gran Grin With A Snake Of Smile” ain’t no slouch, either. A much more overtly jazz-oriented piece, “Hey Mr. E!” recalls ethno-jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (who occasionally sat in with RR+P) at his most manic. Bruce Smith’s drums and percussion work shine, as he generates a roiling and tumbling foundation over which the rest of the band stain the stereo field with magmatic Pharoah Sanders-esque sax, snaky, Charlie Haden-like bass, and Sanger’s insane-asylum babble. It’s like a more abstracted take on Pigbag’s “Getting Up,” and therefore very worthwhile. But, as I said, “Bob Hope Takes Risks”—snide title and all—is where the real thrills and spills happen.

(It would be nice if some adventurous label reissued Rip Rig + Panic’s entire catalog on wax. But I’ve been saying that for like two decades, to no avail.) -Buckley Mayfield

One comment on “Rip Rig + Panic “Bob Hope Takes Risks” (Virgin, 1981)

  1. Post-Punk Monk on

    This is a record I’d wanted for 35 years, but only managed to find on 12″ in 2016! I distinctly remember hearing it when it came out, during the summer of 1981. It got played a lot on WPRK-FM in Winter Park, Florida as they were in the throes of the UK funk movement of that summer. Lots of releases from Ze Records were hitting the airwaves at ‘PRK during that time, and this record fit right in the sweet spot. Rip Rig + Panic were an offshoot from The Pop Group who managed to make jazzfunk records that had equal footing in both jazz and funk! The vocals on this single were by Neneh Cherry, who also looks to have been the cover model for sleeve painter Jill Mumford.

    This was one wild, wigged-out record! I went over 30 without hearing it but remembered it vividly for being absolutely fearless in its resolve. The best comparison I can make is with the first Was (Not Was) album, which was its closest contemporary in terms of sound. Was (Not Was) touch more lightly on freeform jazz to enliven their intellectual funk palette, but this record dove right into the bucket! It sounded like a mashup of five or six different records and it absolutely never bored.

    And then there’s the title. It’s the kind of title, that once I heard of it, almost surpassed the actual music. It’s a title that drips with such unsurpassed irony, that even if the record’s grooves were empty, the name alone would entertain, inspire, and illuminate! I remember the DJ who played this the first time I heard it. It was Tony Christy, who not only had the best “radio voice” I’ve ever heard but who also ended up being John Cale’s tour manager in recent years. As he said the title before spinning it, right then and there I was hooked. Even if it had sounded like Bruce Springsteen, I’d still hold a candle for the title alone.

    How excited I was to have found the DLX RM of “God” on CD with both versions of this thrilling song. Two years later and I found the 12″ crate diving in Nashville, TN!

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