Friday, September 2, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 317: Happy Mondays

I'm having a very creative day today. I finally got to collating all the notes and feedback I've received on my book and making my final revisions. It is damned exciting to embark on this next phase of the process. Also, I want it done so I can write something else - right now my head is overloaded with the one project, making it hard to motivate for others.

And in between my job search activities, I even snuck in about 45 minutes of painting...and now a blog entry. In my little creative world, that means I've hit for the cycle.

Disc 317 is...Pills 'N Thrills And Bellyaches

Artist: Happy Mondays

Year of Release: 1990

What’s Up With The Cover?: Way too much. It spells out the band's name and album title, but it is so busy it is painful to look at. A big thumbs down to this cover.

How I Came To Know It: This is one of my friend Nick's discoveries. Nick is from Manchester and he will periodically introduce us to some Manchester band of his youth (others include Magazine and Black Grape). It isn't music I ordinarily listen to, but Nick has a good ear, and tends to pick the best of it.

How It Stacks Up: I only have this one Happy Mondays album, so there isn't much to compare it to. That said, I also have one Black Grape album, which is also a creative project of two former Happy Mondays (Shaun Ryder and Bez). If I were to compare this record to my Black Grape record ("Stupid Stupid Stupid") the Happy Mondays win by a hair.

Rating: 3 stars.

The Happy Mondays is a band that I have a hard time describing. They are sort of a cross between early nineties pop and funk, with maybe a dose of post-punk thrown in. Many of their songs feature drug use so maybe "Stoner Pop Phunk"?

Whatever it is, I first heard it on a night Nick and I were hanging out and sharing music, and I liked it. For years afterward I looked for a copy, but it was damned hard to find on CD. Eventually I had all but given up hope, but then I found a copy in a Seattle record store about five or six years ago. Take that, Amazon!

On this listen it didn't immediately appeal. The first track, "Kinky Afro" is not that great, and overall the whole first side is a bit weak, with the exception of "God's Cop". "God's Cop" is exactly what is great about this band. It has a killer hook, and manages to be funky like Parliament and edgy like the Clash at the same time.

The lyrics are far from deep, but they have a cleverness to them that makes them memorable. Happy Mondays have a real knack for catchy phrases, delivered by lead singer Shaun Ryder in a playful tongue-in-cheek style that reminds us all not to take life too seriously. Examples from "God's Cop" include, "God made it easy on me" and "Me and the chiefs got slowly stoned". I'm not sure either has any deep meaning (or even who 'the chiefs' are for that matter - although I suspect his mates, rather than those guys that hang out at Arrowhead Stadium).

Another standout is "Loose Fit" which has a very groovy hook that plays throughout and settles you into your couch (or most recently, the seat of my car). "Loose Fit" hits at track five, and from here to the end (a tastefully restrained ten songs) the album really picks up momentum and improves overall.

"Bob's Your Uncle" is a sexy song that takes a marimba beat and fuses it to the Mondays' unique sound. Halfway into the song, they throw in what I think is a synthesized penny whistle and actually make it work.

Later songs return to fun lyrics including one of Nick's favourites from "Step On" which goes, "You're talkin' so hip you're twistin' my melon man!" which I believe is nineties Stoner Pop Phunk for "you're creative ideas are confusing me."

On the downside is an old pet peeve of mine, that being that the song titles have very little to do with the lyrics. This is a common early nineties theme, which has sadly stuck around in many genres of modern music (indie being the most notable).

Also, while I like the groove of this record, it has a few tracks that lose themselves in an excess amount of competing rythyms that muddle the song. This happens more commonly at the front end of the record, which is odd since most artists put that kind of muddle on side two.

Overall, "Pills 'N Thrills And Bellyaches" is a good record for both car or party. It doesn't have a lot of layers, but what it does, it does well, which is make your head bob, your body move and generally create a good vibe in the room.

Best tracks: God's Cop, Loose Fit, Step On, Holiday

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