Happy Mondays

Unkle Dysfunktional

(Sequel; 2007)

By David M. Goldstein | 30 December 2007

At least on the surface, the similarities between the new Happy Mondays record and the Smashing Pumpkins' equally new Zeitgeist are uncanny. The only founding members left in both bands are the frontman and the drummer, both Billy Corgan and Shaun Ryder are coming off of horrendous solo records, and their new albums are both the result of unnecessary reunions, each only slightly more appealing than their solo jags.

And that's where it ends. Corgan presumably brought Jimmy Chamberlain back into the fold because he felt slighted by the likes of My Chemical Romance and AFI and had a burning desire to prove to the kids that he's the Only GothRock God That Matters. But as for Ryder's motivation to trudge on with the Happy Mondays' name: who the hell knows? Unkle Dysfunctional hardly marks the first time Ryder's attempted to pull off the crack-cocaine-addled-phoenix-from-the-flames shtick either; the two Black Grape albums were actually pretty awesome, but subsequent late 90s U.K. "reunion" tours under the Mondays moniker showcased a Ryder forgetting the lyrics to most of his songs (even with use of teleprompters, Jerry Garcia-style). And the trickle of new Happy Mondays material since then -- a Thin Lizzy cover on a Greatest Hits album, a song on the soundtrack of 2005 Brit-football flick Goal! -- has been completely lame.

But Shaun William Ryder demands respect. The quantity of Class A's he ingested in the early '90s would kill most men five times over, and his best album begins with the positively immortal verse of "Son, I'm thirty / I only went with your mother / 'Cuz she's dirty." He's 45 years old, and looks at least 15 years older. Surely the man's entitled to cash in?

It goes without saying that the only people who should be allowed to purchase Unkle Dysfunctional are those (like this writer) who own one copy of Pills n' Thrills n' Bellyaches (1990) for each room of their apartment. Dysfunctional certainly isn't recommended for the kids looking for a gateway to the Mondays' classic material, nor anybody who isn't already pre-disposed to giving Shaun Ryder the benefit of the doubt. And with salacious song titles like "Cuntry Disco" and "Angels & Whores" (which features a sampled voice announcing "I'm a drug-addicted alcoholic!"), he's at least not adverse to giving his audience what he thinks they want. First single "Jellybean" is even Ryder detailing a heretofore undocumented obsession with cross-dressing and stands out as the one song on the record where it seems as if he and his band were in the studio at the same time.

Actually, the word "band" is generous, as very little on Unkle Dysfunctional sounds like it was played by actual human beings. The crisp guitar leads and inventive rhythm math of classic Mondays tracks have been replaced with a soupy brand of faceless trip-hop that stopped being current around 1997. Granted, Black Grape's sophomore album wasn't so much a proper band effort as it was producer Danny Saber having his way with the recording studio, but that album jumped from the speakers. Unkle Dysfunctional plods with an aimlessness usually reserved for Ian Brown solo albums or James Lavelle remixes.

And then there's the problem of Ryder himself, who at this point sounds like he can barely get through a whole song without the help of a defibrillator. While most of the tunes do feature discernible verses and choruses, Ryder's phrasing has been mostly reduced to Grandpa Simpson-esque grunts, nullifying any attempts at clever wordplay. When Ryder is understandable, it's usually because he's been reduced to the role of hype man, repeatedly shouting the title of the song that happens to be playing (e.g. "It's in the blood man / it's in the blood / it's in the blood man!" from the fittingly titled "In the Blood"). [Or when he's all "It's DARE" on the Gorillaz's "Dare." -- Ed.] Again, "Jellybean" proves the exception, containing both a hella catchy chorus and bright chord progression that more than makes up for the song's molasses tempo.

So long as you approach Unkle Dysfunctional as little more than an excuse for Shaun Ryder to head back out on the road, I guess it works fine. Yours truly was plenty miffed when a recent New York City Mondays gig was cancelled at the last minute (Visa issues, natch); a glance at the current live footage on their website proves they can still bring it live. And Ryder knows on what side his bread is buttered too. Rest assured that "Angels and Whores" isn't about to knock "Kinky Afro" or "Step On" off the setlist. So what if Ryder's a bit of a charity case at this point in his, um, career? Dude's way more sympathetic than Billy Corgan, and unlike the latter, could probably use the cash.