On Second Thought
Happy Mondays - Bummed






for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

When late 1980s Manchester is recalled, most rock fans recall the Stone Roses’ debut and the Happy Monday’s Pills, Thrills, and Bellyaches and the dance crowd romanticizes A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray” and 808 State’s “Pacific State.” Lost in the shuffle is Bummed. Recorded when the Happy Mondays were the artful dodgers rather than the Artful Dodgers of acid house, this is the best intersection of the two sounds and could be the moment’s finest album.

The Happy Mondays had debuted on Factory Records the previous year with Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People..., a promising, John Cale-produced record that wallowed in funk, but ultimately seemed a diluted, less politicized version of Factory artists such as A Certain Ratio. This follow-up, produced by the famed Martin Hannett (New Order), was the perfect summation of the 1988 British Summer of Love. The album is a kaleidoscope of swirling rhythm and neo-pyschedelica, but without hippie naivete. The Mondays offered a luvved-up, E-soaked coalescing of the Factory sound, but one that was as conscious of the Thatcherite despair of the morning after as it was of rave’s nocturnal escapist utopia.

Where the Roses jammed—their obsessions with 60s guitar rock and world-beating ambition only allowed for snatches of Mancunian acid house—the Mondays grooved. The Mondays embraced the shiny treble of the dance floor but retained the menace of their it’s-grim-up-north predecessors on tracks such as “Mad Cyril,” with its half-speed conga drums, rolling piano, slide guitar, and distant sirens of 808 blasts. “I like that, turn it up,” a sampled voice asks near the end. His request is never granted. Within Hannett’s Wall of Sound the instruments blend and none take the lead, embracing the anonymity-cum-communality of the dance floor.

In the Mondays individuality was the domain of vocalist and lyricist Shaun Ryder, who twisted and turned his flat vocals through a series of surrealistic in-jokes, street and drug slang, and simmering—almost threatening—sexuality. Ryder’s crude, plainspoken lyrics are as close to embryonic gangsta rap as to guitar pop and are almost anti-intellectual. “You used to speak the truth / But now you’re a liar / You used to speak the truth / But now you’re clever,” Ryder sneers on “Wrote for Luck.” Ryder celebrates instinct and the poetry of the common man, misinterpreted as romanticizing base coarseness by Oasis and other followers.

Keeping the cues of non-vocal acid house, a verse and chorus were almost never musically distinguishable. The one exception is album closer “Lazyitis.” On that track, Ryder shows a sort of post-E sagacity. Not only do the album’s threats of violence spill over in to action (the Hacienda was overrun by drug gangs and tainted by the first E death), but it’s as explicitly rockist as possible, borrowing part of its melody from the Beatles. (Mancunian music was overrun by the Roses and tainted by the Oasis-led death of invention).

As glorious as the Mondays follow-up sounds, it was also forged by professionalism and standard verse-chorus-verse structure— “Harmony” even has a guitar solo. On this album, however, the Mondays didn’t run scared from the present, crafting one of the last truly unique, a refreshingly modern sounds in British guitar music, an idea that for all of the highs of the Stone Roses somehow got buried under Squire’s effects pedals.


By: Scott Plagenhoef
Published on: 2003-09-01
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