t’s probably not escaped your attention that the music industry is fucked. CD sales slumped by 8% in the first half of this year, mirroring a global slump from 1.9bn to 1.7bn from 2005 to 2006. Independent music store chain Fopp has recently gone bust. HMV have reported a 73% fall in their annual profits. Prince is about to “release” his new album in the UK by giving it away free with the Mail on Sunday, an agreement which points towards the equally dire situation of the UK’s newspaper industry (cover mount CDs and DVDs being little more than a desperate, but effective, method of gerrymandering sales figures by causing a huge spike once a month). Legal download sales are up, but conservative estimates still suggest 20 illegal downloads for every legal one.
Meanwhile the Happy Mondays, one of Manchester’s most lauded and successful bands of the last 25 years, released their new album, Uncle Dysfunktional, at the start of last week. That Shaun Ryder has physically managed to produce a new record in 2007 is a minor miracle, as is the fact that said record isn’t (quite) a hideous travesty. Less than miraculous was the public’s response; it charted at #73.
The spectre of Ryder, corpulent, addled, and ravaged by his own “genius,” reading from an autocue on the last Happy Mondays reunion tour, is enough to have turned anyone away from a new album by the North West’s most notorious band, but the album itself doesn’t (quite) deserve such disregard, because most of it fits neatly in with the established Mondays’ history, both aesthetically and qualitatively, at least at first glance.
For the main part, Shaun Ryder sweats and swears his way through a sequence of tunes that deploy the same kind of bass-led grooves, slinky guitar riffs, and thumping, late-80s / early-90s ‘funky drummer’ rhythms that made “Kinky Afro” and the like such winners, despite the absence here of original guitarist Mark Day and bassist Paul Ryder. The opening two tunes, for example, don’t add to the memory of his past achievements, but they certainly don’t sully them either, existing in the kind of smooth, semi-professional indie-dance zone that typified Yes Please, the band’s previous album from fifteen years ago.
Disturbingly though, Ryder ends opener “Jellybean” (where he sings about his own ‘tits’) with the insightful confession that “I made some mistakes, man,” before opening “Angels and Whores” with a sample proclaiming “I’m a drug-addicted alcoholic”; lyrics about ugly sex and bad drugs always typified Ryder’s peculiar brand of poesy, but it’s not so easy to get away with them when you’re his age.
In fact the aged Mancunian scallywag role has already been portrayed much better this year by Mark E. Smith on the Von Sudenfed album, his quasi-deranged ramblings backed by bona fide futurist arrangements courtesy of Mouse On Mars. A couple of times on Uncle Dysfunktional the Mondays break out of their past and attempt to come to grips with more contemporary forms, but it’s less than convincing, especially when taken next to “Deviants” and the horrifically-titled “Cuntry Disco,” tunes every bit as bad as you would fear a new Happy Mondays album would produce.
All in all Uncle Dysfunktional is far better than expected, but still nothing in comparison to Bummed, Pills & Thrills & Bellyaches, or the first Black Grape record. Given the complete lack of interest, this must surely go down as the most pointless comeback ever.