With the Happy Mondays, tales of brawls, late-night parties and drug binges often overshadowed their head-bobbing music. They had a reputation as a thuggish lot, and on occasion, they brought out the violent side of the late-’80s/early-’90s rave culture.
Formed in 1985 and lumped in with the likes of the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays burst out of Manchester as an explosion of colorful house music, head-spinning psychedelia, blues and ’70s funk and soul. Samples and hip-hop beats got caught up a whirling mass of guitars, groove-tastic bass lines and Shaun Ryder’s outrageous lyrical madness — an oddly literate combination of insider drug conversation, sexual come-ons and street lingo that impressed former Factory Records head honcho Tony Wilson so much that he compared him to W.B. Yeats.
Ryder, the notorious bad-boy of Britain’s rave scene, has reconvened the Happy Mondays as a trio of himself, and Bez and Gaz Whelan. The band will birth its first album — no title yet as far as I can tell — in 15 years in the coming weeks and perform songs from it at the Coachella Festival in California on April 29. Dogged by legal entanglements and health problems, the Happy Mondays have been dormant for a while, with Ryder focusing on Black Grape, the pysch-disco unit he pieced together after the Happy Mondays, and guesting on the cartoon/hip-hop collective Gorillaz hit “Dare.”
There is the little question of “why?” to deal with. It started off a lark, an exercise in writing songs just for the hell of it. Ryder says it took off from there. “It was having the time to do an album,” he says in a press release outlining the details of the reunion. “Everybody’s been busy just living, doing whatever they have to f**king do in their lives. We got back together in 1999 and we’ve been doing. We’d never have split up in the first place if it had just been the three members in the band now back then, but the others wanted to so we did.”
It might have helped too if the band hadn’t been drugging like fiends, as they were reputed to have done back in the day — the dirty-laundry details of which are all over the 1992 album, “Yes Please!” Apparently, the boys are sober as judges now. At least that’s the news from their publicists, with Ryder a family man of all things.
“We’re all too old for that shit now,” explains Ryder. “I have to admit, though, that this is the first time I’ve ever been out in this business — and I’ve been in this business since I was 18 — that I’ve done it straight, not using crack or heroin or whatever. It’s f**king terrifying! No, it’s great, until you go and do interviews and sit there and not have anything to say.”
Produced by Sunny Levine, son of former Sly And The Family Stone producer Stewart Levine, the album promises to be a more rock-oriented affair than past Happy Mondays’ efforts. Whatever. Their return should be a shock to the system of an alternative-dance culture now ruled by the DFA and LCD Soundsystem.