Happy Mondays – Bummed review

Originally released November 1988. Review originally published July 9th, 2007.

For all its breakneck takeover speed, Dickensian scallywaggery and cod psychedelic drug paraphernalia, the “Madchester” era arguably produced only two genuinely worthwhile expressions of its surprise youthquake, being The Stone Roses eponymous debut released in September 1989 and November 1990’s Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches.

Effectively book ending the era’s shortlived period of creative impetus, their respective codas were strikingly different – the former’s hubristic retro having a street radiance whilst the latter wore a cynical, Robbing Hood sleaze – however both shared a basic DNA.

Dealing with Manchester’s musical cognoscenti differently, the openly elitist Roses shunned Factory Records and its totemic Hacienda, deliberately showcasing their evolving sound in London, whilst the Mondays not only formed a core part of the label’s roster but then later found themselves cast in the role of cash pissing panto villains during the organisation’s messy implosion into bankruptcy.

Like an un-missing link, one listen to Bummed telegraphs the lineage between the angular street smarts of the Mondays debut Squirrel and G Man and the ribald, picture postcard torpor of Pills & Thrills slacker eulogy. Produced by veteran Martin Hannett and recorded in the pastoral if-nowhere-had-a-middle location of Driffield, it’s the sound of drugs, work-hating lethargy, nefariousness with no direct victim and a life on the trainered hoof that required fingers in lots of dirty, dirty pies. (Fittingly, The Slaughtehouse studio used was destroyed by fire later, legend having it that the owners had the remarkable foresight to remove its entire collection of masters shortly beforehand).

It’s an easy piece of class tourism to over analyse what informs Bummed’s root ethos. A decade of Thatcherism and her obsession with convention and social control had an impact on the substrata of have nots, will nots and just don’t give a fuck nots. Maybe too the steady increase in drug use, disappearance of decent jobs and the dismantling of the welfare state created an appetite for escapism unparalleled since the hippy era. Maybe. But it was impossible equally to legislate for Shaun Ryder’s blunted urban poetry, his hisses, burbling snatches of nursery rhyme and twisted character pieces as they confounded all of that patronising socio-therapy; the realisation hits almost immediately that this blunted bard would’ve been a dope-takin’, ass-squeezin’ no-work pied piper for the x generation if John F Kennedy had been the King of England.

Built around the core of his stream of unconsciousness, brother Paul’s undulating P-Funk bass and Mark Day’s chiming, trebly guitar, Bummed opens with the twisted, Tammy Wynette but from Little Hulme whine of Country Song and the unbridled insanity of Moving In With, but it’s on Mad Cyril that it gets real traction; wielding huge, up-tempo whumping synth stabs, gutter bass and gonzoid samples, it sounds like working men’s club disco from outer space. It’s also the key (Excusing the stutter of Fat Lady Wrestlers) to Bummed’s demented, boogie down core; anti-stadium schlock, Performance sees Day throwing off another huge, spiralling guitar riff which sounded like something The Edge might have done had he been brought up in Longsight listening to Funkadelic.

For all it’s obvious influence on proceedings to follow in maisonette bedrooms and lock up rehearsal spaces across the country, it’s in Brain Dead that you can most obviously hear the sound’s conception; whilst Ryder either autobiographically or otherwise recounts the selfish insularity of dependency and the impact on the addict’s environment, a tooled down Shaftish-motif shimmers in the background as used by S’Express et al and keyboards wobble queasily approximating a belly dancing strip joint soundtrack.

The rest of the story unfolds in mad-for-it technocolour; Paul Oakenfold’s minimalist draft of Wrote For Luck was the final acetylene spark, in its original form here it’s yet another contraband riff, with Ryder’s hilarious auto skills assessment disparaging the utilitarianism of the dead end McJobs he’d formed a band to avoid; “Oh well not much, I’ve not been trained, I can sit and shout, beg and roll over”. It’s a high that can’t fail to be followed by anti-climax; Bring A Friend casts Ryder on the set of a back bedroom super 8 porn film, money shotting his way to the top of the local newsagent’s VHS shelf – backed by an anaemic Wah Wah soundtrack – whilst Do It Better is breathless in tempo, lyrics barked out and the insistent guitar, grinding out feral new wave guitar chops.

Thankfully, they aren’t done lifting just then; the final on their toes is a dipping Ronnie Biggs would’ve been proud of, languid sitar toting closer Lazyitis thieving its counter melody from Ticket To Ride and rounding out proceedings in a suitably dazed and dilapidated fashion. Solo free and recorded twenty miles from nowhere, Bummed was everything that yinged the Roses yang; an all for one-ness without three-minute fret wanking or esoteric semi politicisation. Without either band the fabled dance-rock crossover would not have occurred, because the chimera would’ve remained in a Petri dish. By this kind of Darwinian luck, movements are born.