I know of Madchester from 24 Hour Party People and from the unfortunate legacy of its approach to percussion which infiltrated into so much ’90s music. But I don’t really know any of the bands. This is probably my first proper Madchester record though now that I see it’s lumped in with Baggy I’m not so sure. (I’ve definitely heard something by some band categorized as Baggy, I just can’t think of what that is right now.)
The songs are reasonable catchy though I can’t say I love Ryder’s lyrics. Initially I was going to rag on the songs but I realized on my third listen that I remembered a lot of them so the problem isn’t the melodies. It’s possible Ryder is a charismatic frontman who could sell his not great lyrics but, well, there’s a problem, which I’ll get to.
For all its heralded fusion of dance and rock, this music sounds a lot more “rock” to me than “dance.” I don’t know much about ’80s dance music in the UK but most of this record sounds way closer to post punk rock music than it does to dance music. I think about a record like Remain in Light, released a number of years prior, and I think that this just pales in comparison in terms of using the two disparate things.
But my real issue with the record is the production by the legendary / infamous Martin Hannett. I don’t love Hannett and I tend to think most of what he produced in the 1980s sounds worse on account of his presence and this is certainly true of this record. This record sounds like a cavern, as some have pointed out, but not a cavern with good acoustics (depending upon the instrument). Ryder sounds like he’s shouting out of a hole in one of the walls, and the keyboards feel like they are in another cave altogether. Sometimes there are samples and the samples are mixed higher than the instruments! There are effects on the guitars and maybe the keyboards that further add to the sound. The long and the short of it is that this record does not sound like it was recorded in 1988; it sounds like it was recorded at the same time and in the same conditions as Joy Division’s records, only I’m not sure this suits their sound. Anyway, it’s dated horribly; it sounds terrible.
But, the melodies are good enough and this is supposedly a pretty novel fusion for UK music. I can’t say that it’s a bad record just that it’s pretty horribly (or improperly produced) and that I can imagine a much, much better version of it – with the same songs and similar performances – which sounded so much better if they had just found someone other than Martin Hannett to produce it.