Let’s not lie to ourselves, Unkle Dysfunctional – Happy Mondays’ first album release in more than 14 years – was never going to be a masterpiece. Quite frankly nothing by the band could ever touch the legendary Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches, which owes its greatness to either a fluke or the right combination of energy, youth and belly-loads of drugs.
However, this comeback effort is a huge amount of fun and a reminder that it’s great that the Happy Mondays have never completely disappeared, although there will always be those who argue that they’re past it and are tarnishing the pilled-up nostalgia of the Madchester glory days.
Those in that camp are doing Unkle Dysfunctional a disservice. It is as good – if not better – as anything Black Grape produced and a definite grower of a listen. It is unlikely that it will attract any new fans, but for the legions of loyal followers of Shaun and co, it will definitely satisfy.
New single Jellybean is a great start to the album. It’s got the trademark Happy Mondays sound, and as soon as Shaun’s shambolic vocals kick in, there’s no doubt as to who you’re listening to – particularly when lyrics like “It’s good to press my tits against the floor” kick in.
Who knows what Shaun’s banging on about. But who cares? The Mondays’ have never taken themselves or the music too seriously and now that they’re older thankfully that hasn’t changed. The nonsensical lyrics are part of the charm. It worked for the Pixies and The Beatles (I am the egg man, anyone?) and it works for The Mondays.
Jellybean is a decent marker as to how the rest of the album sounds. Most of the tracks are in a similar vein – upbeat, uptempo, typical Happy Mondays with elements of Black Grape thrown in. But perhaps what’s missing on this album is a bit more variety – some shade to the light. The dark elements that made Pills and Thrills so special are sadly absent here. Unkle Dysfunctional has definitely been taking too many happy pills.
Speaking of pills, drugs are definitely one of the main themes of this album. Despite protestations from the press release that Shaun has swapped hard drugs for healthy living, illegal substances have a presence throughout Unkle Dysfunctional. And so they should. The excesses of The Mondays are part of the package, and this is music that is solely about partying. A welcome relief when too many bands are making too many songs about complex relationship problems. A bit of frivolity is sometimes the best medicine for a hard day in the office.
Providing the weather improves, Unkle Dysfunktional will be a terrific companion to the summer. It is doubtful, however, that it’s appeal will last beyond that. The songs are too light and fluffy to be classics, and it’s unlikely that many – if any – would make it on Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches. Still, it offers something for the devoted fan and it is a joy to hear the Manc charms of Shaun Ryder once again.